Blue House suggests holding trilateral talks with US and North Korea following spring summits

Posted on : 2018-04-03 17:11 KST Modified on : 2019-10-19 20:29 KST
The idea reflects the Moon administration’s drive to a penultimate summit with China, NK, and the US to declare an end to the Korean War
US President Donald Trump
US President Donald Trump

Amid an ongoing debate over the “road map” for the Korean Peninsula’s denuclearization, the Blue House stated on Apr. 2 that an approach of holding trilateral talks with North Korea and the US prior to four-party talks with China would be “desirable.”

“The proper sequence would be to have the inter-Korean summit first and North Korea and the US, which are parties [to the North Korean nuclear issue], followed by South-North-US, and South-North-US-China after that,” a key Blue House official said.

“Things like declaring an end [to the Korean War] and signing a peace agreement will be possible once there has been an agreement on a broader framework with regard to denuclearization,” the official added.

The remarks suggest the Blue House in envisioning an approach of moving quickly to get the ball rolling on a fundamental solution to the nuclear issue by holding a trilateral summit after the inter-Korean summit on Apr. 7 and South Korea-US and North Korea-US summits in May, after which China is to be brought on board as fourth party to later discussions on a permanent peace regime.

“A South Korea-North Korea-US summit is something we want, and we hope it works out that way,” another senior Blue House official told reporters. The remarks came in response to a question on whether President Moon Jae-in’s focus on a trilateral summit would continue even with China assuming a greater voice on Korean Peninsula issues following its Mar. 26 summit with North Korea. The official also replied in the affirmative when asked whether this meant a “trilateral summit before a South Korea-North Korea-US-China summit.”

The Blue House’s repeated emphasis on a trilateral summit appears to stem for its conclusion that cooperation with North Korea and the US has been the driving force in recent changes to the peninsula’s political situation. In their four-point Declaration on the Advancement of South-North Korean Relations, Peace, and Prosperity adopted at an inter-Korean summit in Oct. 2007, South and North Korea stated their agreement to “work together to advance the matter of having the leaders of the three or four parties directly concerned to convene on the Peninsula and declare an end to the war.”

At the time, Seoul favored amending the “three or four parties” phrasing to read only “parties directly concerned,” but the current framework was adopted at Pyongyang’s insistence. From the standpoint of North Korea – which has periodically called for trilateral talks with Seoul and Washington since the mid-1980s – China is unambiguously a signatory to the Armistice Agreement signed in July 1953, but its subsequent withdrawal of forces from the peninsula means it is no longer a “direct party“ to peninsula issues.

Sungkyun Institute of China Studies director Lee Hee-ok explained that the current framework “makes it difficult for South Korea, North Korea, the US, and China to meet and reach a ‘one-shot’ deal” on issues such as denuclearization, a declaration of the Korean War’s end, and a peace agreement.

“This could be a gradual issue of a process where South Korea, North Korea, and the US set the direction. It appears different from the ‘three or four parties’ context with the October 4 Summit Declaration in 2007,” Lee said.

Republican Senator calls the moment “a historic opportunity to end the Korean War”

Meanwhile, Republican US Senator Lindsey Graham, who said as recently as early 2018 that he would be willing to go to war to prevent North Korea from developing its nuclear and missile programs, drew attention on Apr. 1 by mentioning the possibility of a four-party peace agreement with China in exchange for North Korea’s denuclearization.

“Here's the goal in negotiations [at the North Korea-US summit]: to make sure that North Korea gives up their nuclear program,” Graham said in a Fox News appearance that day.

“And maybe get a peace treaty with North Korea, South Korea, the United States and China,” he added.

“Now, we've got an opportunity, historic in nature, to sit down and maybe not only get [Kim Jong-un] to give up his nuclear weapons but to end the Korean War, which is still going on,” Graham said, adding that the US should “not let this drag on a very long time.”

Graham’s remarks are seen as unusual, as he and other ultra-hardline North Korean hawks have tended to solely emphasize denuclearization without mentioning any corresponding rewards. Also, because Graham made the remarks shortly after disclosing in the interview that he had had dinner a few days before with White House National Security Advisor nominee John Bolton, they may also be a reflection of Bolton’s thoughts as well.

By Kim Bo-hyeop and Kim Ji-eun, staff reporters and Yi Yong-in, Washington correspondent

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