Probably, I’d bet. South Korean president Moon Jae-in has continued his efforts to keep the momentum going forward for peninsular reconciliation, even as his partners Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un have sent mixed signals along the way. With recent US intel suggesting that Kim has continued North Korea’s nuclear weapons production in the short term and Trump canceling Mike Pompeo’s trip to Pyongyang, Moon must recognize that things could soon revert back to the status quo of February.
North Korea’s Kim Jong Un wants a second summit with U.S. President Donald Trump soon to hasten denuclearization, but a key goal is declaring an end this year to the 1950-53 Korean War, the South’s President Moon Jae-in said on Thursday.
Moon said he and Kim spent most of a three-day summit discussing how to break an impasse and restart nuclear talks between Pyongyang and Washington, which are at odds over which should come first, denuclearization or ending the war.
Kim, who recently proposed another summit with Trump after their unprecedented June talks in Singapore, said the North was willing to “permanently dismantle” key missile facilities in the presence of outside experts, and the Yongbyon main nuclear complex, if the U.S. took corresponding action.
The joint statement from the summit stipulates his commitment to a “verifiable, irreversible dismantlement” of the nuclear programs, and ending the war would be a first U.S. reciprocal step, Moon said.
Moon also says that Kim wants Pompeo’s visit back on the schedule:
“Chairman Kim Jong Un said he wants Secretary Pompeo’s North Korea visit and a second summit with President Trump to happen at the earliest convenience in order to speed up the denuclearization process,” Moon told reporters in Seoul.
Moon said Kim also told him the closure of a nuclear weapons test site at Punggye-ri could be also subject to international verification. He said he would discuss with Trump his and Kim’s goal of declaring an end to the Korean War by the end of this year.
That got the designed response from Trump:
Trump responded to news from the summit by saying he was “very excited,” while Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the United States was “prepared to engage immediately” with North Korea to move dialogue ahead.
Mission accomplished for Moon, it seems, but it also perhaps a portent of failure to come. Having all of these Kim-isms coming through Moon’s mouth isn’t a great position to be in; it would be far better for Kim to declare himself directly, making him commit publicly to these positions. As it is, Moon’s word is all we have. Kim has plenty of room to balk and deny ever having made the invitations or commitments, which is a game his father mastered.
That’s not to denigrate Moon’s word, but simply to note the incentives at play. Moon got elected on promises to mend the North-South relationship and resolve the nuclear standoff. That’s great if the resolution is a denuclearized Korean Peninsula, but not so much if the result is a pretend denuclearization from Kim. The incentives run strong for Moon to accept gift horses without looking too intensely in the mouth. If the US finds itself stuck with whatever Moon produces, we might find ourselves without much of anything except empty promises.
So far, of course, Trump and the administration has done a good job of withholding concessions without getting something substantive. That’s certainly putting pressure on Kim, and if Moon’s conveying an accurate sense of their conversation, it seems to be paying off. If Kim allows international inspectors unfettered access to these sites and their deconstruction, it would be a very good step in the right direction. If.
At some point, Kim will have to step up in public in order to have any confidence in progress and promises. Until then, maybe we should take Moon’s relay system with at least a small grain of salt.