Amid growing expectations that the denuclearization process of North Korea will gather momentum with the repatriation of the remains of American soldiers killed in the Korean War, all eyes are now fixed on the upcoming ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) set to be held in Singapore this week. As the ARF is the only regional multilateral forum for consultations on security issues attended by the North as well as where the top diplomats of related countries including South Korea, the United States, and China gather together, each country is rushing to continue negotiations under the table to come up with breakthroughs at the forum.
It remains uncertain whether the top diplomats of the two Koreas and the United States will sit together for discussions at the forum, which starts on Monday in the city state where the historic Trump-Kim meeting was held. It is likely that instead of a trilateral talk, a series of bilateral meetings among the three countries will first take place, followed by coordination afterwards.
The foreign ministers’ talk between the two Koreas, if held, would be the first in 11 years since 2007, when the then South Korean Foreign Minister Song Min-soon met his North Korean counterpart Park Ui Chun. The possible meeting between the North’s Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo would be also meaningful as it could establish a communication channel between the two countries’ top diplomats. Thus far, Pompeo’s North Korean counterpart in negotiations has been Kim Yong Chol, head of the United Front Work Department.
Expectations are rising that the talk will inject fresh impetus into the denuclearization negotiations between Pyongyang and Washington. The creation of a working group for denuclearization and formally ending the Korean War seem to be included in the main agenda. The North has strongly demanded that the United States declare the end of the war, calling for rewards corresponding to each denuclearization activity. The recent meeting between Foreign Minister Ri and China’s Vice Foreign Minister Kong Xuanyou also points to a possibility that Pyongyang has already discussed and drawn up a plan with China to “declare the end of the war by four parties” including Beijing in the talks.
Some speculate that U.S. President Trump will reveal trade-offs himself on the occasion of a ceremony to honor the returned remains of American troops in Hawaii Wednesday. Trump thanked North Korean leader Kim Jong Un for “keeping his word” right after the soldiers’ remains arrived in Osan Air Base, south of Seoul.