The Moon Jae-in administration has been playing a role of a mediator of the U.S.-North Korea summit. But Moon’s North Korea policies drifting away. After U.S. President Donald Trump said sanctions will stay in place during the summit with Moon, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un announced that he would not ask to alleviate sanctions anymore during his policy speech on Friday. As the U.S. and North Korea are locked in disagreements, Moon is stuck in a diplomatic “nutcracker.”
“The South should not act as an 'overstepping mediator' or a 'facilitator' and should rather get its mind straight as a member of the (Korean) nation and boldly speak up for the interest of the nation,” said Kim. It is an outright threat to Moon to take Pyongyang’s side. Now South Korea has less leeway as the U.S. has growing suspicion that the South Korean government is leaning towards North Korea rather than the U.S.-South Korea alliance. Even if Kim’s remark was an internal message, Seoul would have to address the rough expressions.
Moon should not act hastily to restore talks. Cheong Wa Dae is planning to reignite the talks with the North as Trump is also willing to talk further with Kim. It plans to lead the fire to an inter-Korean summit and even a trilateral summit between the two Koreas and the U.S. But it could be difficult to bring Pyongyang to the negotiation table or make meaningful progresses in negotiations without a new approach on denuclearization. It would be hard to draw satisfactory results even if the two Koreas hold another round of summit. South Korean citizens would become tired of summits if no progresses are made in many rounds of talks.
It is high time that South Korea puts pressure on North Korea to denuclearize based on strong international sanctions while reviewing agenda of the summit through working-level meetings. South Korea seems to be in a deadlock, but the reality is quite simple: Kim’s will to denuclearize is not strong enough. We should not repeat meaningless summits by letting heads of state have it out with each other without meticulous preparations.