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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on Feb. 6)

2018/02/06 07:05

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Kim Yong-nam's visit

North should take sincere step toward peace

North Korea's plan to send its nominal head of state Kim Yong-nam to the PyeongChang Olympics is likely to have a positive effect on the Winter Games and inter-Korean dialogue. His selection as chief of the North's delegation could be designed to get Pyongyang abreast with the leaders of 26 countries attending the opening ceremonies.

Kim, president of the Presidium of the Supreme People's Assembly, will be the highest-level North Korean official to visit South Korea since the division of the Korean Peninsula. There was speculation that Choe Ryong-hae, vice chairman of the Central Committee of the North's ruling Workers' Party, would have led the delegation. But the North found it difficult to dispatch Choe because he is among the blacklisted North Koreans under the international sanctions imposed because on the country because of the Kim Jong-un regime's nuclear and missile development programs.

Against this backdrop, Kim Yong-nam is certainly a realistic choice for the North's chief delegate. He also attended the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing and the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. He is largely regarded as the ceremonial head of state with no real power and is elderly. This, however, does not necessarily belittle his presence at the Olympics. Rather, he may deliver a certain, if symbolic, message to the South and the world.

His visit could boost President Moon Jae-in's efforts for engagement with the North. Moon is reportedly seeking to hold a one-on-one meeting with Kim Yong-nam during his Feb. 9 to 11 stay here. Kim may carry a personal letter from North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. Some optimists even expect Kim's visit will open the way for another inter-Korean summit after the two previous ones in 2000 and 2007.

But we have to be cautious, as Pyongyang has refused to discuss the denuclearization issue with Seoul or Washington. It is still difficult to shake off worries that the North might try to use the Olympics to drive a wedge between the South and the U.S. and weaken the international sanctions. By sending Kim Yong-nam to the Games, the North might stage a disguised peace campaign to escape its isolation. It could also attempt to buy time to compete its nuclear program.

In this context, one may ask: Is it possible for Kim Yong-nam to meet with visiting U.S. Vice President Mike Pence? Of course it is unlikely they will meet, although no one can rule out the possibility. The reason is because Pence, who has a firm position against the North, said he'll come to PyeongChang to send a clear message: U.S. strategic patience is over. He also seeks to counter the North's efforts to "hijack" the Olympics with a propaganda campaign.

It will be tricky to keep the momentum for inter-Korean talks after the Games and push North Korea to return to denuclearization talks with the U.S. and its allies.

(END)

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