South Korean President Moon Jae-in received US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Sunday, 7 October, in Seoul after the latter had paid an official visit to North Korea where he had lengthy discussions with Chairman Kim Jong-un.
Addressing his American guest, President Moon said he hopes the Pompeo trip to Pyongyang and the “upcoming second US-North Korea summit” will provide “a good opportunity for achieving irreversible, decisive progress in terms of denuclearisation and the peace process on the Korean Peninsula”.
Immediately after Mr Pompeo had finished his trip to the North Korean capital, President Donald Trump tweeted that he would meet Chairman Kim after the US midterm elections scheduled for 6 November, less than four weeks from now.
The fact that the Americans and the North Koreans agreed to hold a second summit that would bring their respective leaders face-to-face again in less than six months speaks volume of the progress achieved, in lower-level contacts between the two sides, on denuclearisation and the end results of what President Moon Jae-in rightly described as the “peace process” in the Korean Peninsula.
The South Korean presidential office released a statement Sunday, 7 October, in which it quoted Pompeo saying that he and Chairman Kim had discussed “denuclearisation steps that will be taken by North Korea and the issue of attendance by the US government”, as well as, “corresponding measures to be taken by the United States”.
Mr Pompeo assured that Washington and Pyongyang continue “to make progress on agreements made at the Singapore Summit” — the first between a sitting US president and a North Korean leader, on 12 June.
Furthermore, he added that his latest visit to Pyongyang saw “a good productive conversation with Chairman Kim in talks which represented another step forward”.
Taking the American assessment of the results of the latest round of high-level talks between the United States and North Korea into consideration, it would not be a surprise if the second American-North Korean summit would come up with, at least, a clear American commitment to declare, in the context of an agreed timetable with the North, the official end of the Korean War.
This is my interpretation of the phrase “corresponding measures to be taken by the United States” in the South Korean presidential statement. If this proves the case, then the stage is set for a multilateral peace process in the Korean Peninsula that would go beyond American-North Korean peace talks.
As a matter of fact, last week, the deputy foreign ministers of Russia, China and North Korea met in Moscow to coordinate their respective positions concerning the future of the Korean Peninsula in light of the ongoing talks between North Korea and the United States.
The clear and unambiguous strategic message coming out of Moscow is that Pyongyang has the backing of both Moscow and Beijing in its negotiations with Washington.
According to the brief statement of the Russian Foreign Ministry, the three sides were unanimous in calling on the UN Security Council to re-examine the sanctions presently imposed on North Korea related to its nuclear testing and missile launches.
The statement said that North Korea has effectively taken “important” steps on the road of denuclearisation. Moreover, the statement also called for a review of unilateral sanctions, that is, sanctions adopted out the Security Council purview.
The most interesting and significant part in the statement is the diplomatic support that the three countries have lent to what they called “five-power talks” to end “tensions” in the Korean Peninsula.
Beside the expected American-North Korean summit, another important summit is expected in Moscow before year’s end. Chairman Kim Jong-un is expected to visit Moscow for the first time since he succeeded his late father in 2011, to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
After meeting Chinese President Xi Jinping on three different occasions in less than a year now, meeting President Putin would strengthen the position of North Korea vis-à-vis Washington in the most crucial phase in negotiating the denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula.
It would be highly important if Washington would deal with the whole question of denuclearisation and peace on the Peninsula in the framework of a regional approach, rather than a bilateral one between the United States and North Korea.
Needless to say, rising tensions between China and the United States, of late, are a complicating factor, but agreeing on denuclearising the Korean Peninsula in the context of a regional approach could help the Americans and the Chinese reduce these tensions.
President Trump and President Xi Jinping will be in Argentina next month to attend the G-20 Summit. A meeting between the two is not to be excluded.
That would impact positively on the overall situation in the Korean Peninsula. However, indications are that the peace process in the Peninsula has become almost “irreversible”.
The second American-North Korean summit would be highly crucial in this respect. Let us keep our fingers crossed.
* The writer is former assistant foreign minister.
* A version of this article appears in print in the 18 October, 2018 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly under the headline: A crucial second summit