SEOUL – South Korean newspapers on Wednesday cautiously welcomed Pyongyang’s offer to discuss denuclearization, but the main opposition party drew parallels with the Munich Agreement, which allowed Hitler to annex parts of Czechoslovakia.
Leader Kim Jong Un told visiting South Korean presidential envoy Chung Eui-yong there is “no reason” for Pyongyang to hold onto its nuclear weapons “if military threats toward the North are cleared and the security of its regime is guaranteed.”
Kim is willing to discuss denuclearization with the U.S. and said Pyongyang would stop nuclear and missile tests while talks are underway, Chung told a briefing, and the North and South agreed to hold a summit next month.
Pyongyang has long said its nuclear arsenal is firmly off the negotiating table.
Seoul newspapers expressed a guarded welcome but warned that major questions remain over the North’s sincerity.
“There are positive points in this agreement,” the South’s conservative Chosun Ilbo daily said in an editorial.
“However, a question mark still hangs over the key issue — whether the North is genuinely willing to negotiate away its nuclear arsenal,” it said.
It noted the North promised “verifiable, irreversible and complete” denuclearization in a 2005 agreement but went ahead with a nuclear test a year later.
It warned Pyongyang might attempt to weaken international sanctions through a rapprochement with the South while playing for time to further develop its nuclear arsenal.
“If this scenario unfolds, South Korea and the international community would again play into the North’s hands,” it said in an editorial headlined: “Are we going to end the nuclear hostage situation, or be cheated again?”
Hong Joon-pyo, the head of the conservative main opposition party, the Liberty Korea Party, lambasted the talks as akin to the 1938 deal British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain negotiated with Adolf Hitler — and proclaimed as “peace for our time” — agreeing to Nazi Germany’s annexation of the Sudetenland in Czechoslovakia.
“The agreement reminds me of the 1938 Munich Agreement,” Hong wrote on his Facebook page. “Only fools would be cheated twice.”
The pro-business Joongang Ilbo daily said that an inter-Korean summit — which would be the third of its kind — would be meaningless unless it led to the North’s denuclearization.
The North had carried out 12 missile and nuclear tests since the South’s President Moon Jae-in took office in May last year, it pointed out, saying Pyongyang’s overtures are aimed at avoiding sanctions.
“If the North really wants to have peace take root on the Korean Peninsula, it should take concrete steps for denuclearization,” Joongang said.
The independent Hankyoreh daily was more enthusiastic, welcoming the agreement as “an achievement with great significance that went beyond all expectations.”
The agreement “paves the way for a complete denuclearization in the future,” Hankyoreh said.
The North’s state media made no mention of the offer in its coverage on Wednesday, with the Rodong Sinmun, the mouthpiece of the ruling Workers’ Party, instead leading on messages of congratulation sent to Kim for the 70th anniversary last month of the founding of the North’s military.
In a commentary, the paper said that Pyongyang’s possession of a nuclear arsenal is justified.
“It was a shining victory for us in our struggle to achieve a parity in power with the U.S. that we have come to develop hydrogen bombs and ICBMs,” it said.
“There was no other alternative for us in the highly confrontational situation where we alone have to face the U.S., the world’s largest nuclear-armed state, with our own means.”