SEOUL – South Korean President Moon Jae-in is seeking a deal with North Korea in 2020 to bring about the “complete denuclearization” of the isolated nation in return for a peace treaty that would guarantee the survival of Kim Jong Un’s regime.
Moon, an advocate of dialogue and exchange with North Korea, set out his ambitious goal Wednesday in a special presidential Blue House report outlining his objectives for his five-year term. While the government this week proposed talks with Pyongyang, it’s the first time the new president has provided a timeline for his engagement policy.
“We will come up with a negotiation plan for comprehensive denuclearization that will lead a nuclear freeze to a complete dismantling,” of weapons, the Blue House said in the report, which stated Moon would propose a road map this year. “The treaty will be signed when denuclearization is complete and the peace regime will be maintained in a stable way.”
Moon, who took office May 10, is looking to ease tensions over Kim’s pursuit of a nuclear missile capable of striking the U.S. mainland. His Defense Ministry has offered talks with Pyongyang, while the National Red Cross has floated preparatory discussions for reunions of families split by the 1950-53 Korean War.
While his olive-branch approach doesn’t differ greatly from U.S. President Donald Trump’s policy of “maximum pressure and engagement,” the devil will be in the details, according to analyst Ralph Cossa.
“Moon apparently has Trump’s support in playing a lead role in dealing with the North,” Cossa, president of the Pacific Forum CSIS in Honolulu, said before the statement was released. “Both have agreed to a mix of pressure and dialogue but neither is an end in itself. The end is changing North Korea behavior, and the prospects of that remain very slim.”
Cossa added that Moon’s desire to take the lead on nuclear discussions is “a total no-starter” for Kim, who is seeking discussions with the U.S. as it is also a nuclear power. North Korea has signaled a willingness to consider Moon’s overtures, but has voiced skepticism about the prospects for a breakthrough.
On Saturday, North Korea’s official Rodong Sinmun newspaper criticized Moon’s approach as a “series of sleep-talking sophistries that create even greater hurdles” to talks. Still, the paper expressed “relief” that Moon has signaled a departure from the policies of his conservative predecessors.
The reclusive state has yet to respond to Moon’s demilitarization timetable.
North Korea is likely to agree to military talks by suggesting an alternative date and “there are a few easy carrots for Moon to offer, such as an end to propaganda broadcasts and balloons,” said Cossa. The sticking point is that Kim will want more than Moon can promise, such as an end to the South Korea-U.S. joint military drills.
Trump has also signaled his frustration with the pace of efforts by China, North Korea’s longtime ally and top trading partner, to pressure Kim back to the bargaining table. The stakes have risen for the U.S. president after North Korea’s first successful test July 4 of an intercontinental ballistic missile that analysts say could reach Alaska, if not continental America.
Wednesday’s report details 100 tasks that Moons plans to tackle during his single, five-year term. While they also cover areas such as the domestic economy and welfare policies, below are some of his objectives for relations on the Korean Peninsula:
Seek early return of wartime operational control to South Korea from the U.S.
Connect the two Koreas by building an energy belt along the east coast to Russia, a logistics and transportation belt on the west coast, and a tourism belt around the demilitarized zone on the border
Establishment of an inter-Korean joint market, if conditions allow, to boost private sector economic exchanges
Reopen the joint industrial park on the northern side of the border and resume tourist visits to North Korea’s Mount Geumgang — again, if conditions improve
Complete the nation’s three main defense systems earlier than scheduled in early-2020: Kill Chain, aimed at striking North Korea’s nuclear and missile system; Korea Air & Missile Defense to intercept North Korean missiles targeting South Korea; Korea Massive Punishment & Retaliation to remove the North’s leadership should it use nuclear weapons
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