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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on Feb. 12)

2018/02/12 07:00

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Conditions for South-North summit

North Korea's high-level delegation to the PyeongChang Olympics stole the show Saturday by extending its leader Kim Jong-un's invitation for South Korean President Moon Jae-in to visit Pyongyang. The North's rare charm offensive, which began with the start of the New Year, culminated in the invitation just one day after the opening of the Winter Games.

The offer does not necessarily come as a surprise as there were already some reports Kim would invite Moon for an inter-Korean summit to thaw the chilly bilateral ties. Rather it is seen as a challenge for Moon as he risks playing into the hands of the North if he accepts the offer immediately and unconditionally.

Well aware of this, President Moon gave an appropriate reaction to the invitation, orally delivered by Kim Jong-un's sister Kim Yo-jong, who acted as a special envoy for the North Korea leader. During a luncheon meeting with her and other northern delegates, Moon said, "Let's make it happen by creating the necessary conditions in the future." This implies he has accepted the offer conditionally.

The President cited conditions necessary for an inter-Korean summit which would be the third of its kind, if realized, following two previous ones. He stressed the need for Pyongyang to resume dialogue with Washington. "An early resumption of dialogue between the United States and the North is needed also for the development of the South-North Korean relationship," a presidential spokesman quoted Moon as saying.

The President was not straightforward in calling on the North to have denuclearization talks with the U.S. This was because he did not want to irritate the North by mentioning the North's denuclearization directly. This made clear his intention to keep the momentum of inter-Korean detente which has been prompted by the North's participation in the Winter Games.

Nothing can make a breakthrough in the strained South-North ties better than an inter-Korean summit. Any president of the South is eager for it as seen in the case of the late President Kim Dae-jung and his successor Roh Moo-hyun who held summits with Kim Jong-un's father Kim Jong-il in 2000 and 2007, respectively, both in Pyongyang. The same goes for liberal President Moon, an advocate for active engagement with the North.

But President Moon recognizes fully he cannot meet Kim Jong-un without any progress in the North's denuclearization. In other words, improving ties between the two Koreas are necessary but not sufficient for a summit meeting. For this reason, Moon is striving to see the inter-Korean thaw lead to a Washington-Pyongyang dialogue.

Now it is important for Moon to work together with U.S. President Donald Trump more closely to prod the North to take the path toward denuclearization. But this is not easy given the Kim Jong-un regime has no sign of giving up its nuclear program, while the Trump administration seeks to bring the North to its knees with maximum pressure and sanctions.

Another problem is the North might try to drive a wedge between Seoul and Washington and seek sanctions relief by using the Olympics and the brewing inter-Korean rapprochement. Skeptics warn the North may demand the South and the U.S. scale back or stop their annual joint military exercises which have been delayed until after the Olympics and the Paralympics.

We urge North Korea not to test President Moon and the South-U.S. alliance. Kim Jong-un should show his sincerity in defusing tension on the Korean Peninsula and making peace in Northeast Asia before holding a summit with Moon. Or the summit proposal will only prove to be a disguised peace campaign.