Talks to de­nu­cle­arise Korean penin­sula have stalled

The Irish Times - Weekend Review - - 2018 REVIEW - Clif­ford Coo­nan in Bei­jing

In a dra­matic soft­en­ing of ap­proach by Kim Jong- un, 2018 has seen the North Korean leader trans­formed from an evil mega­lo­ma­niac who or­dered the killing of his own brother and overseer of a net­work of in­hu­mane gu­lags, into a po­ten­tial peace­maker and Don­ald Trump’s bff.

Hav­ing be­gun the year with the de­scrip­tion of Trump as a “id­iot dotard” still ring­ing through the re­gion, by Septem­ber US pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump was preach­ing his love for the leader for­merly known as “lit­tle rocket man”.

“He [Kim] wrote me beau­ti­ful let­ters. They were great let­ters. And then we fell in love,” Trump wrote.

Since those heady days the process of achiev­ing peace has largely stalled, and 2019 looks set to be all about get­ting im­pe­tus back into the talks to de­nu­cle­arise. South Korea and China will have a ma­jor role to play in this, but the key re­la­tion­ship is go­ing to be the US and North Korea.

Ten­sions started to ease with both Koreas march­ing un­der a uni­fied flag at the Win­ter Olympics in Jan­uary. Come April and Kim met South Korean pres­i­dent Moon Jae-in at the de­mil­i­tarised zone (DMZ), mak­ing a jaunty jump across the line di­vid­ing the penin­sula. By June, Kim was be­ing feted in the Marina Bay Sands ho­tel i n Sin­ga­pore af­ter meet­ing Trump for the first-ever sum­mit be­tween the two cold war en­e­mies.

Sud­denly talk of de­nu­cle­ari­sa­tion was in the air.

The sum­mit in Sin­ga­pore was all about show, and al­though it ended with North Korea agree­ing to de­nu­cle­arise, the terms of the Sin­ga­pore Dec­la­ra­tion were vague and there has been scant progress.

In July, the re­mains of Amer­i­can ser­vice­men from the 1950-1953 Korean War were re­turned to the US.

North Korea has stuck to its pledge not to test new mis­siles. It says it has de­stroyed its nu­clear test­ing ground and also ap­pears to have dis­man­tled the So­hae satel­lite launch sta­tion. But there has been no progress on for­mally end­ing the Korean War, which ended in a cease­fire but not a peace treaty, and ver­i­fi­able de­nu­cle­ari­sa­tion.

In re­cent weeks there has been much t alk about whether Kim Jong-un will make the first ever trip to South Korea by a North Korean leader, but the Amer­i­cans and the South Kore­ans will want to see more progress on de­nu­cle­ari­sa­tion be­fore that takes place.

Kim has clearly looked at the eco­nomic suc­cess racked up by neigh­bours such as China and South Korea and de­cided it is North Korea’s turn to en­joy a pe­riod of ro­bust growth.

“The ma­jor shift within North Korea was Kim’s an­nounce­ment in April that the coun­try’s fo­cus needed to shift en­tirely to eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment,” said John Delury, an as­so­ci­ate professor at Yon­sei Univer­sity in Seoul.

“Kim’s am­bi­tions for North Korea to catch up to the pros­per­ity of its neigh­bours is the key un­der­ly­ing driver of progress in the diplo­macy around ‘ peace and de­nu­cle­ari­sa­tion.’ The chal­lenge for 2019, then, is for Seoul ( which has the l ead in peace) and Washington ( which has the lead on de­nu­cle­ari­sa­tion) to align their ef­forts in prac­ti­cal and proac­tive ways with Kim’s will­ing­ness to keep mov­ing in a pos­i­tive di-

If the cur­rent sit­u­a­tion is to change, Kim needs to make con­ces­sions on full de­nu­cle­ari­sa­tion


But it will take more than cos­metic ev­i­dence of re­form to con­vince the US and oth­ers that the North is soft­en­ing its ap­proach.

Paul Haenle, di­rec­tor of the Carnegie- Ts­inghua Cen­tre in Bei­jing, be­lieves that right now, the US finds it­self in a worse po­si­tion now than a year ago.

“Yes, there is greater re­gional sta­bil­ity thanks to a halt in North Korea mis­sile and nu­clear tests. But, it was only year ago that North Korea was in­ter­na­tion­ally iso­lated. Its re­la­tions with its strong­est ally, China, were strained,” he said.

“The global com­mu­nity was aligned in the need to im­ple­ment rig­or­ous eco­nomic sanc­tions and pres­sure to halt fur­ther North Korean nu­clear de­vel­op­ment . . . To­day, in­ter­na­tional con­sen­sus on the need for a con­tin­u­a­tion of the max­i­mum pres­sure cam­paign i s wan­ing, even among US al­lies like South Korea,” said Haenle.

If t he cur­rent si t ua­tion is to change, Kim needs to make con­ces­sions on full de­nu­cle­ari­sa­tion, such as giv­ing a full in­ven­tory of nu­clear weapons sites and agree­ing to ver­i­fi­ca­tion.

“More wor­ri­some, if noth­ing is ac­com­plished, we may find our­selves back where we were one year ago, with threats of a ‘ bloody nose’ and mis­siles be­ing launched of the North Korean coast,” said Haenle.

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