[News Analysis] South Korean special delegation heads to North Korea on Mar. 5

Posted on : 2018-03-05 17:33 KST Modified on : 2019-10-19 20:29 KST
The delegation visit is the latest effort by President Moon Jae-in to facilitate US-North Korea dialogue
Blue House National Security Office director Chung Eui-yong speaks at a press conference prior to departing for his visit to North Korea as head of a South Korean special delegation on Mar. 5. “I will clearly convey President Moon’s determination for denuclearization
Blue House National Security Office director Chung Eui-yong speaks at a press conference prior to departing for his visit to North Korea as head of a South Korean special delegation on Mar. 5. “I will clearly convey President Moon’s determination for denuclearization

The special delegation that South Korean President Moon Jae-in is sending to North Korea to discuss improving inter-Korean relations and creating the conditions for North Korea-US talks aimed at the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula left for Pyongyang via the West Sea direct route on the afternoon of Mar. 5. The delegation, led by Blue House National Security Advisor Chung Eui-yong, is expected to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un as early as Mar. 5 to deliver a handwritten letter from Moon.

After the Blue House announced the special delegation to North Korea, US President Donald Trump said that North Korea and the US “will be meeting, and we’ll see if anything positive happens… I won’t rule out direct talks with Kim Jong-un.”

“President Moon has decided to send a special delegation with National Security Advisor Chung Eui-yong as the chief envoy to North Korea on Mar. 5. The delegation’s visit to the North will reciprocate the visit by Kim Yo-jong, who was sent as a special envoy by North Korean State Affairs Commission Chairman Kim Jong-un,” said Yoon Young-chan, Blue House Senior Secretary for Public Relations, on Mar. 4.

Now that the Blue House has announced the special delegation’s schedule and members, interest is centering on the role and mission of what will be the first delegation to visit North Korea during the Moon administration. The delegation’s main mission, according to Yoon, is deliberating with senior North Korean officials about bringing peace to the Korean Peninsula and developing inter-Korean relations.

Elaborating on this, Yoon said, “We are planning to comprehensively discuss the issues of improving inter-Korean relations by promoting inter-Korean exchange and of creating the conditions for North Korea-US dialogue aimed at denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula.”

Considering that the key issue here is the second one – paving the way for North Korea-US talks on denuclearization – the delegation needs to directly hear from North Korean supreme leader Kim Jong-un whether he will agree to talks with the US that are predicated on denuclearization and what he is planning in regard to this. Not only has Trump declared denuclearization to be the precondition for North Korea-US dialogue, but Moon has also said that no progress can occur in inter-Korean relations, such as an inter-Korean summit, unless the mood is set for North Korea-US talks.

The special delegation – which is composed of key security and foreign policy makers in the South Korean government, including Blue House National Security Office director Chung Eui-yong, who is an expert on the US, and National Intelligence Service Director Suh Hoon, an expert on inter-Korean affairs – could reportedly meet Kim Jong-un as early as Mar. 5. During this meeting, Kim is expected to reveal his thoughts about Moon’s approach to denuclearization, which was conveyed to him by his younger sister and special envoy Kim Yo-jong and by Kim Yong-chol, vice chairman of the Korean Workers' Party Central Committee and director of the United Front Department, during their recent visit to South Korea.

President Moon likely seeking an halt to North Korean nuclear and missile tests

While Moon’s proposal was classified, given the nature of the matter, experts on Korean Peninsula affairs presume that he wants North Korea to announce that it will halt nuclear and missile testing as long as inter-Korean talks and North Korea-US talks continue in order to create the conditions for North Korea-US talks. Some analysts think that Moon also said that North Korea must indicate in some fashion that it intends to denuclearize to create the opportunity for North Korea-US talks to begin and that the South Korean government could suggest to the US postponing or scaling back their joint military exercises that are scheduled for April.

“The special delegation needs to hear something new and improved on the North Korean nuclear issue. If North Korea shows that it’s determined to denuclearize, that could be the basis for launching dialogue. There needs to be an outline and overview of what the US and the international community can do for the North if it abandons its nuclear weapons,” said former Unification Minister Lee Jong-seok.

“The fundamental task is to persuade North Korea to continue refraining from carrying out additional provocations, including nuclear tests and missile launches, to prevent the situation from deteriorating,” Lee added.

Plan needed to address North Korea’s “reasonable security concerns”

“The only way to persuade Pyongyang is by laying out the scenario that if it makes a generic statement about denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula, it would lead to simultaneous talks about denuclearization and a peace treaty. [If we ask the North to declare a moratorium,] we could also reciprocate by bringing up the idea of adjusting our joint military exercises with the US. We need to have a plan to address the North’s ‘reasonable security concerns,’” said Cho Seong-ryeol, chief of research for the Institute for National Security Strategy.

The special delegation has received orders from Moon about its protocol, and the government has reportedly come up with a way for the delegation to send or receive contact with the Blue House at any time. Leading up to the delegation’s visit to the North, the Blue House is torn between hopes and fears. Considering that Kim Jong-un has exceeded expectations in the steps he has taken since responding to Moon’s consistent message toward the North with his New Year’s address, including Kim Yo-jong and Kim Yong-chol’s visits to the South, the delegation is not likely to leave the North empty-handed.

But at the same time, it is difficult to predict what will happen during the first meeting with Kim Jong-un since he took power amid a new environment – not the restoration of inter-Korean relations, but the completion of the North’s nuclear program. “Considering that we have to build relations under new conditions, this is not some kind of emergency medicine that has tangible results right away but rather a health supplement that has a long-term effect,” said one senior Blue House official, who tried to downplay the high hopes that have been pinned on the delegation.

Moon reportedly thinks that the current conditions cannot be resolved through one or two special envoys and that such envoys will only help achieve a fundamental solution to the Korean Peninsula issue when they are sent periodically, when the leaders on both sides deem necessary, in order to strengthen communication.

After returning to Seoul on the afternoon of Mar. 6, the delegation will be briefing Moon on the trip. Soon after, Chung and Suh are planning to personally travel to the US to explain the results of their visit. The Blue House also announced that it will be deliberating closely with China and Japan.

By Kim Bo-hyeop and Noh Ji-won, staff reporters

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

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