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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on Nov. 2)

2018/11/02 07:11

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New working group

Allies should maintain close consultation regarding NK

Washington announced Tuesday it will establish a working group with Seoul this month on affairs related to North Korea. The two countries made the agreement during a visit to Seoul this week by Stephen Biegun, the U.S. special representative for North Korea.

The bilateral agreement to form a new consultative group comes amid rising concerns that the allies are increasingly falling out of step with each other on North Korea. President Moon Jae-in has been eager to ease international sanctions on Pyongyang and expedite inter-Korean economic projects. But Washington remains firm on retaining the sanctions until North Korea makes visible progress in the denuclearization process.

Amid widening differences between Korea and the U.S., the establishment of a working group is a timely move that will hopefully improve coordination between the two countries regarding nuclear diplomacy with North Korea.

There are growing signs of Washington's displeasure with Seoul's rush toward improving inter-Korean ties amid a deadlock in U.S.-North Korea nuclear negotiations. During his visit here, Biegun met with presidential chief of staff Im Jong-seok who also leads a committee for implementing inter-Korean agreements. The media highlighted that Biegun met with Im before meeting with National Security Adviser Chung Eui-yong, who has been leading the nuclear negotiations. The session with Im triggered speculation the U.S. may have called on Korea to slow down its pace of inter-Korean engagement.

According to U.S. news reports, officials of the U.S. Treasury Department communicated recently with the nation's major banks directly, without going through the Korean government, regarding compliance with sanctions on North Korea. The U.S. also reportedly contacted conglomerates whose leaders accompanied Moon to the Pyongyang summit in September and inquired about their plans for inter-Korean economic projects. These actions could be seen as a U.S. warning.

It is not just the U.S. that is displeased with Seoul's rush toward inter-Korean cooperation. Local media belatedly reported that a high-level North Korean negotiator, Committee for Peaceful Reunification of the Country Chairman Ri Son-gwon, insulted our business leaders with rude outbursts during a cold noodles lunch in Pyongyang during the inter-Korean summit in September. This fueled the increasingly negative sentiment here toward President Moon's impatience for inter-Korean economic cooperation. The President must remember that now is the time to focus on North Korea's denuclearization.

As Moon said during a speech at the National Assembly, Thursday, it is crucial for Korea and the U.S. to firmly trust each other to achieve their common goal of complete denuclearization of and lasting peace on the Korean Peninsula. The working group should dispel growing concerns about a rift in the alliance by improving mutual understanding between the two countries.

(END)

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