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(News Focus) Trump's support likely to accelerate talks on peace on peninsula

2018/04/18 12:08

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By Koh Byung-joon

SEOUL, April 18 (Yonhap) -- U.S. President Donald Trump's public support for the two Koreas' discussion on the possibility of declaring an end to the 1950-53 Korean War is expected to accelerate the momentum for efforts to establish lasting peace on the Korean Peninsula, experts said Wednesday.

Some remain cautious, however, saying all those efforts to formally end the decadeslong conflict could get nowhere should there be little progress toward the North's denuclearization, as was the case with a similar attempt at it about a decade ago.

At his meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at the Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, Trump expressed his "blessing" to the Koreas to end their decades-long war, making a surprise revelation that discussion on that matter is underway between Seoul and Pyongyang.

"They do have my blessing to discuss the end to the war," Trump said. "People don't realize the Korean War has not ended. It's going on right now. And they are discussing an end to the war. So, subject to a deal, they would certainly have my blessing. And they do have my blessing to discuss that."

   South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un will meet on the southern side of the truce village of Panmunjom on April 27. It will be followed by a summit between the North and the U.S. either in late May or early June.

Moon and Kim are expected mostly to discuss denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, establishing permanent peace here and improving inter-Korean relations, but it had not been confirmed whether they will discuss the possibility of declaring an end to the Korean War when they meet, until Trump said so.

Later, the presidential office Cheong Wa Dae confirmed that Moon and Kim will likely discuss ways to replace the current armistice with a peace treaty.

The two Koreas remain technically at war since the three-year conflict ended in an armistice, not a peace treaty.

Declaring an end to the war has been cited as the starting point of helping peace take root on the Korean Peninsula and as a catalyst to deepen trust and a peaceful mood. But a previous attempt at it fell apart as the North forged ahead with its nuclear weapons ambitions.

In 2007, then-South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun and his North Korean counterpart Kim Jong-il met in Pyongyang and called for a meeting of the heads of relevant countries to officially end the Korean War. The armistice was signed by U.S.-led United Nations Command, China and North Korea.

"Roh and Kim shared the understanding about the need to put an end to the existing armistice mechanism and build a lasting peace mechanism," said the joint declaration issued after their three-day summit.

"To that end, they agreed to cooperate with each other in arranging the meeting of the heads of state of three or four parties directly concerned with the Korean Peninsula and declaring the end to the Korean War," it added.

Experts generally agreed that such a declaration would go a long way to reducing tensions and could set in motion a serious drive toward a peace treaty.

"It is very meaningful to declare an end to the Korean War as part of efforts to help make the Korean Peninsula free of war. It could serve as a stepping stone toward a peace treaty later on," Kim Yong-hyun, a professor at Dongguk University, said.

"You might say that this is nothing more than a declaration but through this we could move a step toward actually ending the conflict between the two Koreas," he added.

Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies, echoed the optimism, emphasizing that the U.S. endorsement is very significant to accelerate the process.

"Relevant efforts will likely get traction given that the two Koreas have been there before in their previous summit and the North Korean leader is expected to cherish what was agreed by his late father and in particular, all of this comes with the endorsement of U.S. President Trump," he said.

Yang noted that such a declaration could deal with concerns that the two Koreas have about each other, saying that it could ease mutual hostility and provide a security guarantee for the North, a wish that Pyongyang has been pursing for a long time.

"The immediate threat to us is the North's nuclear and missile threat and the North worries about the U.S.' hostility policy toward it, among other things. By making such a declaration with endorsement from the U.S., those concerns could ameliorate significantly," he said.

There are concerns, however, that history could repeat itself on that matter as success could hinge on whether there will be any progress in the North's denuclearization.

Following the joint statement issued after the 2007 summit, the White House affirmed that the talks on a peace mechanism on the Korean Peninsula should go hand in hand with the process of the North's denuclearization.

Since then, the North has carried out five more nuclear tests, combined with a number of missile tests in an apparent bid to develop the means to deliver nuclear warheads to targets in the U.S.

The North expressed a willingness to discuss denuclearization earlier this year after saying that it had completed its nuclear armament. North Korean leader Kim recently suggested a need for phased and synchronous measures in denuclearization efforts, while the U.S. calls for the North to dismantle its nuclear program in a complete, irreversible and verifiable manner.

kokobj@yna.co.kr

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