True focus of all parties must be on Pyongyang talks
Previous summits between North and South have done nothing to prevent the development of nuclear bombs and missiles. Inter-Korean dialogue may improve understanding, but only if the US softens its stance
Rarely has the expression “so near but so far” been so appropriate as when referring to the presence of highly placed American and North Korean representatives at the Winter Olympics opening and closing ceremonies in South Korea. US Vice-President Mike Pence and Kim Yo-jong, younger sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, were seated feet apart at the opening ceremony but did not so much as look at one another, let alone hold a meeting that might have broken the ice and reduced tension between the two nations.
President Donald Trump’s daughter Ivanka came and went from the closing ceremony without contact with senior North Korean official Kim Yong-choi. On the last day of the Games, South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who had worked hard to use them as a platform for opening the way for resolving differences with the North, savoured a minor breakthrough when Kim Yong-choi said Pyongyang was willing to open dialogue with the United States. It was unclear whether Kim attached any preconditions.
The Americans said they were open to holding preliminary talks, but would not relax intensified sanctions and pressure until the North started denuclearisation. This will not bring the two sides any closer together. The US knows the North will not address denuclearisation while the Americans and the South Koreans hold military exercises.
Moon must now try to consolidate an Olympic thaw with North Korea without jeopardising close relations with the Trump administration as it raises pressure on Pyongyang to give up its nuclear ambitions. He needs to handle the offer of a summit in Pyongyang very carefully, given the deep distrust between Washington and the North, and US suspicions of an attempt to drive a wedge between the two allies.
Previous summits between North and South have done nothing to prevent the development of nuclear bombs and missiles. Inter-Korean dialogue may improve understanding, but only if the US softens its stance towards Pyongyang can there be real progress towards peace.
Both sides should focus on creating the conditions for meeting instead of declaring readiness to talk and then kicking the ball into one another’s court.