South Korean President Moon Jae-In was in Pyongyang last Tuesday, 18 September, the guest of Chairman Kim Jong-Un of North Korea. It was their third summit this year.
The two Korean leaders signed a joint declaration that renewed the momentum for a peace deal in the Korean Peninsula that would end the state of war that has lasted from 1953 till today.
The joint declaration between the two Koreas charts a new course for inter-Korean relations and would provide an incentive for the United States to resume negotiations with North Korea in the framework of the results of the Sentosa Summit between US President Donald Trump and Chairman Kim in Singapore 12 June.
The joint declaration comprises some confidence-building measures that, when implemented, would contribute to a more sustainable engagement between Seoul and Pyongyang towards their common objective of turning the Korean Peninsula into a region of “peace and prosperity”.
Among the measures agreed upon stands out the agreement to suspend artillery drills and field manoeuvres, as well as setting up one buffer zone near the Demilitarised Zone, and a second, a maritime one, in the Yellow Sea, where the two sides would suspend maritime drills and the firing of guns.
Similarly, they agreed on a no-fly zone in border areas. There was also an agreement to set up a joint military commission.
The joint declaration was not only about the future relations between the two Koreas. In the declaration, North Korea promised to allow international inspectors into North Korea to verify that a missile test and launch site at Tongchang-ri had been shut down permanently.
Also, Kim Jong-Un pledged to permanently disable the nuclear site at Punggye-Ri, in case the United States takes “corresponding steps”. North Korea did not spell out what the “corresponding steps” would be, but it is being understood that Pyongyang wants the United States to officially end the Korean War by signing a peace treaty before year’s end.
Similarly, North Korea expressed its will to continue taking further steps, like the permanent dismantlement of its main Yongbyon nuclear facility.
President Moon Jae-In said upon his return to Seoul that, “North Korea expressed their willingness to speed up their denuclearisation actions if the United States takes actions to form a new US-North Korea relationship.” No wonder, President Trump hailed the results of the summit meeting at Pyongyang as “very exciting”.
In a statement released Wednesday, 19 September US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said: “On the basis of these important commitments, the United States is prepared to engage immediately in negotiations to transform US-DPRK (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea) relations.” The statement stressed that transforming relations between the United States and North Korea would mirror a process of rapid denuclearisation of North Korea, “to be completed by January 2021, as committed by Chairman Kim, and to construct a lasting and stable peace regime on the Korean Peninsula”.
Not everyone in Washington was happy with the outcome of the Pyongyang summit. Of particular interest in this respect were the comments made by the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Representative Ed Royce, who wrote, “Surprise, surprise: North Korea wants concessions from the United States for steps far short of denuclearisation.
Glad administration has made no commitments. Maximum pressure campaign should proceed.” As to the American media, the coverage of the third meeting between President Moon Jae-In and Chairman Kim was generally sceptical as to the true motives of the latter, doubting the effectiveness, so far, of the US administration’s strategy towards North Korea.
President Moon Jae-In is expected to meet President Trump in New York this week on the margins of the 73th Session of the United Nations General Assembly.
The South Korean president has said that he would bring up in this meeting the objective of formally declaring an end to the Korean War by the end of this year.
He also spoke of the need for the United States to take corresponding steps to “guarantee the security of North Korea, step by step”. In other words, President Trump would be dealing not only with one Korea, but two Koreas sharing the same objective.
With the scepticism voiced in Washington as to true intentions of Kim Jong-Un, and with the strong positions of Ambassador John Bolton, the White House national security adviser, against North Korea, the chances that President Trump and his administration would agree to such a demand don’t seem great at this stage.
Still, the last nine months on the Korean Peninsula have demonstrated that diplomacy works. A second American-North Korean summit could take place in the next few months, a meeting requested by Kim Jong-Un.
Expectedly, this summit would deal with more substantive questions concerning, on the one hand, American-North Korean relations, and the general situation in the Korean Peninsula, on the other, after the Sentosa Summit of June.
* The writer is former assistant foreign minister.
* A version of this article appears in print in the 27 September 2018 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly under the headline: Diplomacy works in Northeast Asia