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Seoul’s inter-Korean relations obsession

Posted August. 10, 2018 07:48,   

Updated August. 10, 2018 07:48

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North Korea’s official Rodong Sinmun on Thursday called for declaring an official end to the 1950-1953 Korean War with the United States, arguing that “there is an order” in achieving a purpose. The message is a direct rebuttal to Washington’s position that an end-of-war declaration is possible only when Pyongyang takes sincere denuclearization measures. Pyongyang’s such attitude is causing increasing pessimism in Washington about the North’s denuclearization. Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said Wednesday that her country is “not willing to wait for too long.”

It is preposterous for the North to demand compensation for an end-of-war declaration without even taking a first step toward its denuclearization. Considering the significance and impact of an end-of-war declaration, it would be right to view the declaration as a compensation to be offered at the point where the North’s denuclearization progresses to a point where it is irreversible. Although the two Koreas agreed on declaring an end to the war at the inter-Korean summit in April, the agreement is based on the condition of the North’s denuclearization as included in the joint declaration.

North Korea did not cling to an end-of-war declaration until right after the historic summit with the United States in Singapore. However, it stepped up its demand of the declaration after it became clear during U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s July 7 visit to Pyongyang that Washington and Pyongyang had huge differences over the denuclearization issue. Considering the South Korean government’s strong attachment to an end-of-war declaration, the North probably decided that it would be effective tactics in driving a wedge between Seoul and Washington. Seoul’s presidential office Cheong Wa Dae could have expected to see a virtuous circle of an end-of-war declaration bringing an epochal progress in building trust and reconciliation among the countries involved in the Korean Peninsula issues to provide momentum to the North’s denuclearization. However, the situation is going in the opposite direction.

It is one of the side effects created by President Moon Jae-in’s focusing on making progress in the inter-Korean relations, rather than concentrating on the North’s denuclearization, that the North is using the end-of-war issue as an excuse for resisting calls for its denuclearization. The issue of illegal shipments of North Korean coal into South Korea could also result from his stance. As making progress in the inter-Korean relations is considered the top priority of this administration, it could be that Seoul’s government officials and companies did not take the possibility of U.N. sanctions violation seriously. As the result, South Korea, the first party of the North Korean nuclear issue, is suspected to have created holes in the international sanctions. Ted Poe, chairman of the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation and Trade, stressed on Wednesday that third-party sanctions should be imposed on all firms, including South Korean companies. U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton also disclosed his phone conversation with his South Korean counterpart Chung Eui-yong over the coal smuggling issue. These remarks indicate that Washington is closely watching the situation.

Nevertheless, Cheong Wa Dae says that it is making diplomatic efforts to achieve an end-of-war declaration at the U.N. in September, leaving the North Korean coal issue to the Korea Customs Service. At this juncture, it is neither possible nor desirable for South Korea’s security and national interest to seek to persuade the United States to accept an end-of-war declaration, considering the atmosphere in U.S. Congress. If the North’s denuclearization gets on track, an end-of-war declaration could provide positive momentum. At the current stage, Seoul should not cling to it any longer. The ultimate way to advance an end-of-war declaration and the establishment of a peace regime is to persuade and press Pyongyang to offer a denuclearization timetable and submit its list of nuclear materials on the basis of a solid Seoul-Washington alliance.