[News Analysis] President Moon prioritizing substance over speed on potential inter-Korean summit

Posted on : 2018-02-19 17:35 KST Modified on : 2019-10-19 20:29 KST
Conditions for sustainable peace on Korean Peninsula cannot be implemented hastily
President Moon Jae-in gives greetings and words of encouragement to foreign and domestic journalists at the main press center for the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics on Feb. 17.
President Moon Jae-in gives greetings and words of encouragement to foreign and domestic journalists at the main press center for the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics on Feb. 17.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in suggested that he is placing more emphasis on substance than on speed when it comes to the inter-Korean summit proposed by North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. On Feb. 17, Moon was at the main press center for the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, located in the Alpensia Resort in Pyeongchang, Gangwon Province, when he was asked whether he intends to hold an inter-Korean summit with Kim.

“I understand that expectations are high, but I think people are being too hasty. We have a proverb in Korea about going to the well to look for scorched-rice tea,” Moon said, using a proverb that is roughly equivalent to putting the cart before the horse. This remark implies that Moon means to get results and to not let all the excitement [over a potential summit] lead to a hasty meeting with the North Korean leader. He seems determined to focus on creating the conditions for sustainable peace on the Korean Peninsula, rather than a one-time summit.

When Kim Yo-jong, first vice director of the central committee of the North Korean Workers' Party, abruptly asked Moon to visit North Korea, he responded by proposing that they “create the right conditions to make that a reality.” During his press conference for the New Year on Jan. 10, Moon said, “Our goal cannot be dialogue for dialogue’s sake. If we are to hold a summit, the right conditions must be in place that make a summit possible, and some degree of results must be guaranteed.”

“President Moon takes a more cautious and long-term view about the question of an inter-Korean summit than any of his advisors at the Blue House. He thinks that the conditions are not yet ready for an inter-Korean summit. To use an analogy, he thinks that we’re only now drawing water from the well that we’ll use to boil scorched-rice tea,” said a senior official at the Blue House.

For the time being, Moon is expected to focus on setting the mood for the US to engage in dialogue with North Korea while keeping a close eye on any signs of dialogue between the two sides. This attitude seems to have been what Moon had in mind when he made the following remarks at the press center in Pyeongchang: “A consensus is gradually forming about the need for dialogue between the US and North Korea as well. We are waiting for the ongoing inter-Korean dialogue to lead to denuclearization talks between the US and the North.”

“While inter-Korean dialogue is most important, there also needs to be concrete dialogue between North Korea and the US for an inter-Korean summit to get results. Not only the National Security Office but also the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Unification Ministry are working through various channels, such as making contact with the US Embassy,” a Blue House official said.

Previous inter-Korean summits came in the midst of US-NK dialogue

The two previous inter-Korean summits, in 2000 and 2007, both took place after the mood had been set for US-North Korea dialogue. After US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said during an interview with CBS on Feb. 17 that, “I'm listening for you [North Korea] to tell me you're ready to talk,” the Blue House welcomed Tillerson’s remarks as showing that “the South Korean government’s efforts are getting some results in creating the mood for North Korea-US dialogue.”

In addition, Moon has apparently urged North Korea to adopt a more forward-looking attitude about the nuclear weapon and missile issue. “President Moon seems to have asked North Korea to change its stance by at least saying that it will start talking about denuclearization,” a Blue House official said. Moon has to find a point of compromise between North Korea, which wants stability for its regime, and the US, which is asking the North to stop developing nuclear weapons and missiles, so that the two sides can sit down for talks. As such, he has no choice but to wait for more tangible change from North Korea as well as from the US.

Moon also appears to be bearing in mind his commitment to reducing the chances of conflict with the US and to maintaining cooperation with the international community. “Considering that the international community’s sanctions against North Korea because of its nuclear weapon and missile programs are still in place, several factors must be taken into consideration before resolving inter-Korean relations. We must methodically create the conditions so that the restoration of inter-Korean relations can coincide with North Korea-US dialogue,” a South Korean government official said.

By Seong Yeon-cheol and Jung In-hwan, staff reporters

Please direct questions or comments to [english@hani.co.kr]

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