Dear people, the delegation of the presidential envoys has just returned home from a two-day visit to North Korea. The envoys held a meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un for more than four hours. During the meeting, the envoys delivered President Moon Jae-in’s letter and message to the North Korean leader and discussed a wide range of pending inter-Korean issues.
At 8 p.m. on March 6, Chung Eui-yong, chief of the presidential National Security Office, briefed the public on the result of a two-day visit to North Korea by a group of South Korean envoys. Chung led the delegation as the special envoy of President Moon Jae-in. At the presidential office, he announced the outcome of the latest inter-Korean agreement, which will hopefully provide important momentum for lasting peace on the Korean Peninsula and the development in relations between South and North Korea. The positive result is particularly significant, as it is considered a crucial turning point for dialogue in regional diplomacy, which experienced acute tension triggered by North Korea’s series of nuclear and missile provocations.
First, South and North Korea agreed to hold a third inter-Korean summit at Peace House in Panmunjom in late April. For that purpose, the two sides will hold working-level discussions.
You just heard Chung Eui-yong revealing that Seoul and Pyongyang agreed to hold another inter-Korean summit. The summit, if realized, will mark the third summit between the two Koreas, following the first one in June 2000 and the second one in October 2007. Here is Nam Seong-wook, professor of Korean Unification, Diplomacy and Security at Korea University.
There has been no South-North summit since former South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun traveled to Pyongyang for the second inter-Korean summit on October 4, 2007. Now, a third summit will be held late next month. A summit meeting is greatly significant since the highest-level dialogue between the leaders of the two Koreas is believed to be the most effective way of resolving bilateral issues. North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has never visited any foreign country since he came to power on December 30, 2011. Also, he has met foreign guests in his country only occasionally, welcoming state guests just seven times so far. And the state guests were mostly ministers or envoys from foreign nations, rather than a head of state. Through a historic meeting with the South Korean president, the North Korean leader will make his debut in summit diplomacy.
In a major breakthrough, leaders from South and North Korea will sit at the dialogue table next month for the first time in eleven years. It marks significant progress that Kim Jong-un, who has never held summit talks for the last six years since he became the leader of his country, will hold his first summit with none other than the president of South Korea. It is also worth mentioning that Kim will be the first North Korean leader to set foot on South Korean soil, as the summit will be held at the Peace House located on the South Korean side of the truce village of Panmunjom. Let’s hear again from Professor Nam.
The two previous inter-Korean summits took place in Pyongyang, so from South Korea’s point of view, it would be Seoul’s turn to host a third one. But North Korea may feel burdened to come down to Seoul. As it agreed to hold a summit in the South Korean side of Panmunjom, I think North Korea has accepted half of Seoul’s request. The third summit will be held in a place that is different from the venue of the previous ones, and this shows that North Korea is committed to improving relations with South Korea.
The third inter-Korean summit will take place in Panmunjom, where the 1953 armistice agreement was signed. That means the South and the North will send a message both domestically and internationally that they will make efforts to end their Cold War hostility and build mutual respect and trust instead on a more equal footing. This is a major shift in inter-Korean ties, which had been deadlocked until late last year. The recent inter-Korean meeting also saw North Korea’s forward-looking attitude toward denuclearization. Here again is national security adviser Chung Eui-yong.
North Korea has expressed its commitment to the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and made it clear that it has no reason to possess nuclear weapons if military threats against North Korea are removed and security of its regime is guaranteed.
Whenever Seoul brought up the denuclearization issue as an agenda item for inter-Korean talks, Pyongyang claimed that it was an issue to be resolved between North Korea and the U.S. This time around, however, Kim Jong-un reportedly affirmed his commitment to denuclearization, saying that a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula was the dying wish of the late former leaders Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il. North Korea made a similar comment in July 2016, and attention turns to why the North mentioned this issue at this point in time.
It shows how desperate North Korea is right now. The nation has been under various U.N. sanctions due to its nuclear and missile tests last year. The thorough enforcement of the strong sanctions has aggravated North Korea’s economic difficulties, causing prices to go higher within the nation and worsening people’s livelihoods. But the sanctions are only intensifying further, rather than being eased or lifted. The U.S. is even considering new sanctions aimed at blocking North Korea from conducting illicit maritime trade. Pyongyang was looking for an opportunity to escape from isolation, when the PyeongChang Winter Olympics took place in South Korea. By using the occasion, North Korea jumpstarted talks with the South as an exit strategy. It is trying hard to overcome the difficulties, even mentioning the word “denuclearization.”
As Professor Nam analyzes, North Korea’s expression of its willingness for denuclearization is interpreted as its strategy to ease harsh international sanctions and turn its confrontation with the U.S. into dialogue. In fact, denuclearization is a precondition set by the U.S. for any talks with North Korea, as the U.S. has constantly said that the North should denuclearize first. South Korea’s top security adviser Chung Eui-yong also said that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un signaled his intention to hold talks with the U.S. during the latest inter-Korean meeting.
The North expressed its willingness to hold candid talks with the U.S. to discuss the denuclearization issue and normalize bilateral relations.
North Korea’s positive attitude is boding well for dialogue between Pyongyang and Washington. On March 6, U.S. President Donald Trump positively evaluated North Korea’s proposal for negotiations over denuclearization. The U.S. State Department also said that it would discuss the next steps with South Korea when the South Korean envoys visit Washington D.C. on March 8 to brief the Trump government on the result of their trip to North Korea. It seems the U.S. is regarding the possibility of North Korea’s denuclearization as a meaningful progress. As the mood for dialogue is being created, the South Korean envoys’ recent visit to North Korea is apparently initiating three-way dialogue between South Korea, North Korea and the U.S.