Millennium Post

Moon-Kim summit

Moon-Kim summit
The countdown for the forthcoming summit between the leaders of the rival Koreas has begun. Even as speculation is on about the eventual Kim-Trump summit, the meeting, later this week, may be the ultimate test of South Korean President Moon Jae-in's belief that his nation should lead international efforts to deal with North Korea. There will be significantly higher stakes when Moon faces off with the North Korean leader Kim Jong Un at the border village of Panmunjom. Moon's job is to keep up positive momentum for more substantial discussions between President Trump and Kim, their separate summit is anticipated in May, over the North's nuclear disarmament. Seoul can certainly take credit for setting up the talks between Pyongyang and Washington. But Moon's ambitions took a hit when Kim made a surprise visit to Beijing recently for a meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping. That summit reintroduced China as a major player in the diplomatic push to resolve the nuclear standoff and almost certainly strengthened Kim's leverage heading into his talks with Moon and Trump. Sources have it that Kim would have asked China, North Korea's only major ally and economic lifeline, to soften its enforcement of sanctions aimed at the North. He may have also sought Chinese commitments to strongly oppose any military measure the United States might take should his talks with Trump fall apart. Moon has said that Kim was not asking for the removal of U.S. troops but still wants security guarantees and for the U.S. to end its "hostile" policy. It will not be clear until the summits occur what North Korea intends, but its closeness to China strongly indicates its traditional stance remains. For Washington and Seoul, denuclearisation means ridding the North of its nuclear weapons. Any ambiguity short of that meaning could pose credibility problems for Seoul, which also could be pushed aside if Washington chooses to deal more directly with China. At the meeting in Panmunjom, the Koreas may agree on measures to reduce tension across their heavily-armed border and regular communication on a new hotline between their leaders. They may also agree on cultural and sports exchanges. But for South Korea, the meeting is mostly about keeping alive a positive atmosphere for the Kim-Trump talks. This means Moon must persuade Kim to agree to a vision of denuclearisation that is closer to what Seoul and Washington have in mind. Moon has been calling for a process where North Korea first declares its commitment to denuclearisation and a permanent peace regime on the peninsula in exchange for the allies promising a security guarantee. Washington and Seoul would then set up a robust verification mechanism and gradually lift sanctions and carry out the promised security measures based on Pyongyang's fulfilment.
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