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North Korea

Key role for Moon in bringing peace to Korean peninsula

But the prospect of stability also depends on the North and the United States ending hostilities and striking a deal on denuclearisation

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 20 September, 2018, 9:27pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 20 September, 2018, 11:33pm

Any agreement North Korean leader Kim Jong-un makes with rivals is a positive step for stability in the region. His third summit with South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in, the first in Pyongyang, struck deals that have the potential to appreciably improve ties between the two Koreas. Importantly, stalled talks with the United States have been given much-needed momentum. Translating the joint declaration into action is the next move, but the key to peace lies in making substantive progress on denuclearisation.

The declaration aims to make some moves in that direction, with the North agreeing to close a testing site for missile engines and launch pads in front of international inspectors. Willingness was also expressed to permanently shut the Yongbyon nuclear facility, providing the US also takes positive measures. US President Donald Trump welcomed the deals and his secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, expressed a desire to restart negotiations with Pyongyang, with North Korean denuclearisation by 2021 the goal. So optimistic a deadline is perhaps more about trying to woo voters for upcoming midterm elections in the US than reality; the process, even with Kim’s full cooperation, could take a decade or more.

Has the Korean summit proved Moon is a master diplomat?

Talks between North Korea and the US have made little progress since Kim and Trump held a groundbreaking summit in June owing to disagreement over the terms of denuclearisation. The declaration in Pyongyang does not address American demands that the North hand over information about its nuclear programme and makes clear that progress depends on the US. Symbolically, the most significant initial step Washington could take is one repeatedly sought by Pyongyang; to sign a formal agreement ending the 1950-53 Korean war. That has to be given top consideration as part of future talks, with Pompeo offering more rounds in coming weeks.

Denuclearisation depends on a deal between Pyongyang and Washington, aided by Beijing and Seoul. But good relations between the Koreas are also necessary and Moon has taken the initiative in ensuring that occurs. The friendly welcome he received from Kim and the honours he was accorded, including giving a speech at a packed stadium, prove how warm the leaders’ relations have grown since their first summit in April. They announced moves to eliminate military threats, improve economic links, smooth reunions of separated families and proposed jointly hosting the 2032 summer Olympic Games. A decision was made for Kim to make a landmark visit to Seoul, possibly this year.

These are welcome moves. But lasting peace and stability depends on North Korea and the US ending hostilities and striking a deal on denuclearisation. Moon has an influential role to play.