“Let us make it happen by creating the necessary conditions in the future,” said South Korean President Moon Jae-in to Kim Jong Un’s hand-written invitation to Pyongyang delivered by his sister Kim Yo Jong who visited Cheong Wa Dae on Saturday. Moon practically accepted the invitation and said he wanted to create the environment for that to be able to happen, which is a prerequisite to achieve meaningful results out of the inter-Korea talks, a Cheong Wa Dae spokesperson said. At first, Moon’s response had been interpreted as a conditional acceptance – neither yes nor no, but the spokesperson said otherwise.
But that was once again denied by chief spokesman Yoon Young-chan around an hour later. “What the president said is let’s create the right circumstances to make it happen,” Yoon said in a statement. “And we hope you take the comment as it is.” This vividly depicts Cheong Wa Dae’s stance towards North Korea’s invitation to visit Pyongyang. It wants to hold a summit, but needs to be conscious about the concerns of the global community including the United States that the summit would go against the stream of North Korea sanctions.
Nevertheless, Moon’s willingness will accelerate exchanges between the two Koreas. The South Korean government extended profuse hospitality for the North Korean delegation including Kim Yo Jong by organizing four face-to-face meetings with Moon during their three-day visit in South Korea until they went back to Pyongyang on Saturday night. Some say that Moon will send a senior envoy to the North in the near future.
The United States, however, has a difference perspective on the inter-Korea summit. U.S. Vice President Mike Pence refused to meet with the North Korean delegation, and emphasized air-tight sanctions against North Korea after departing South Korea on Saturday. The Trump administration forewarned of additional sanctions on North Korea. The South Korean government tried to invite the United States to talk with North Korea in Pyeongchang to no avail. Pence left his seat five minutes after his arrival at the reception held at the South Korean presidential office Cheong Wa Dae on Friday, when Moon suggested him to meet with North Koreans even after Pence spoke of his intention to not participate in the meeting an hour earlier. North Korea’s nuclear program is too serious an issue to take an approach that meeting with each other will lead to something good.
If Moon visits Pyongyang, the priority should be making progresses in denuclearization. A Cheong Wa Dae insider said what really matters is the relationship between North Korea and the United States, rather than visiting Pyongyang. For meaningful changes in the U.S.-North Korea relations, Kim Jong Un should show that North Korea is willing to halt nuclear provocations and engage in the discussion for denuclearization. The most important task of an envoy to the North would be persuading North Korea to take this stance.
At the same time, the South Korean government should reaffirm the solid alliance between South Korea and the United States. There are concerns that the two countries are taking different directions. Seoul needs to make every effort to level with Washington, explain to allied nations that the inter-Korea talks is to make progresses in North Korea’s denuclearization, and restore North Korea sanctions temporarily lifted during the Olympics. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un will come to the summit table empty-handed should the international sanctions are eased.
The best case scenario would be a peaceful and reconciliatory atmosphere created between the two Koreas as a result of the first summit in 11 years. But if no progress is made in the summit, it may cause a critical aftershock. Now is no time to be moved by an unconditional and bold meet-up with the North as South Korea’s former Presidents Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun visited Pyongyang in 2000 and 2007.