[Interview] “There needs to be a change in the strategic thinking from the US side”

Posted on : 2018-10-01 18:08 KST Modified on : 2019-10-19 20:29 KST
Special presidential advisor Moon Chung-in reflects on current status of NK denuclearization talks 
Moon Chung-in
Moon Chung-in

"If the second summit between the United States and North Korea is to be held, both President Trump and Chairman Kim Jong-un need to play their ‘big card.’ It will be difficult to make the ‘big deal’ through a sequential method insisted upon by so-called ‘inspection zealots.’”

Moon Chung-in, who serves as a presidential special advisor on unification, foreign affairs and national security, said that, “Kim Jong-un [who told President Moon during the recent Pyongyang summit that, ‘he wanted to achieve complete denuclearization as quickly as possible and then focus on economic development] said that he would clearly and quickly move toward denuclearization. There have to be major corresponding incentives for him [on the part of the United States.] There needs to be a change in the strategic thinking from the US side.”

The special advisor related that at a banquet dinner that took place at Mokrangwan restaurant on Sept. 19 during the inter-Korean summit in Pyongyang, Kim emphasized, “It has been very difficult for us to come to this point. There is no turning back from here. We need to achieve results.”

The following interview took place on Sept. 28 in the office of special advisor Moon at the Changseong neighborhood annex building of the Central Government Complex in Seoul over the course of 90 minutes.

Hankyoreh (Hani): How different is the situation on the Korean Peninsula after the Pyongyang summit and the South Korea-US summit in Washington compared to before?

Moon Chung-in (Moon): “The Pyongyang summit was a watershed moment for conflict prevention. The opportunity has been presented to create a virtuous cycle for the bilateral relationships between South and North Korea, South Korea and the US, and North Korea and the US. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo canceled his planned fourth visit to North Korea, and the minimization of China’s role due to trade friction with the US was difficult to predict and caused some turbulence. But President Trump has now announced that there will be a second US-North Korea summit and has given a high evaluation of Chairman Kim on a daily basis.

The South Korea-US relationship has also become more firmly cemented. President Trump happily signed the revised KORUS FTA and instructed his cabinet to “examine” the request of President Moon for a tax exemption on Korean automobiles.

Hani: What additional issues need to be addressed in order to achieve the second North Korea-US summit?

Moon: Steve Biegun, the US special representative for North Korea policy, and Choe Son-hui, North Korea’s vice foreign minister, need to immediately have “Vienna talks” to revitalize progress. If that happens, then Pompeo’s fourth trip to North Korea will become possible. If Pompeo makes the visit, then there has to be a “big deal” between the two sides. How will President Trump meet with Chairman Kim if that doesn’t happen?

Politically speaking, it will be considerably difficult for the American public to accept a declaration ending the Korean War. Chairman Kim’s dismantlement of the nuclear facilities at Yongbyon (on the condition of corresponding measures by the US) is one important possibility. Stanford Professor Emeritus Siegfried Hecker, an expert in non-proliferation, pointed out that the production facilities for plutonium and highly concentrated uranium and the training of its nuclear experts are at the heart of the North Korean nuclear program. The US will also want to see tangible concessions on nuclear warheads and ICBMs.

If those things happen, the corresponding measures from the US takes will be vital. For example, there has to be a series of corresponding developments such as the establishment of liaison offices in Pyongyang and Washington, DC, the start of diplomatic negotiations, the adoption of a declaration ending the Korean War, and a UN Security Council resolution to relax sanctions. That way North Korea also will have more room to maneuver.

Obsessing over reporting and inspections without mutual trust is a dead-end street

Hani: Following the North Korea-US summit on June 12, we saw differences of opinion emerge regarding the end-of-w0ar declaration and a full report [demanded by the US] of the North’s nuclear program. After both the inter-Korean summit Pyongyang and South Korea-US summit in New York, has there been a change in the framing of this issue?

Moon: We need to look to the lecture that Professor Hecker gave a lecture at Yonsei University on Sept. 27. He said that in a situation lacking mutual trust, obsessing over the issue of reporting and inspections will lead to a dead-end street. If North Korea does not trust the US, it will be difficult to present a complete list of all its nuclear weapons, equipment, and facilities. Likewise, even if North Korea presents a complete list, if there is no trust on the part of the US, there will be those who say, “This is clearly a trick.”

Because of this situation, Professor Hecker suggested that given North Korea’s offer to close its nuclear facilities, the priority should be to use these closing actions as a way to create mutual trust, which can then be used to address the problems of reporting and inspections.

In addition, Professor Hecker emphasized that in the process of reporting, verifying, and inspecting, North Korea’s cooperation would be absolutely necessary, and that “cooperative verification” must be pursued. In order for inspections and verification to be properly conducted, trust must be built up so that cooperation is possible. A declaration ending the Korean War between North Korea and the US can be a touchstone for building that trust.

Hani: How should the variable of the American midterm elections on Nov. 6 be viewed?

Moon: It is not a big variable. Even if Pompeo only goes to visit Pyongyang in the middle of October, it will be a big political benefit for the Trump administration because it will provide hope. I think the second North Korea-US summit will probably take place after the election.

Moon’s role in recent changes on Korean Peninsula

Hani: What is the driving force behind the recent changes in the situation on the Korean Peninsula?

Moon: President Moon has made a big contribution to turning around the situation through his leading role as a mediator and facilitator [of talks between North Korea and the US]. Chairman Kim has played an important role as well. If he had reacted coldly to the display of initiative by President Moon, these issues would not have improved. President Moon seems to have read Chairman Kim’s inner feelings.

Hani: It’s strange to see the South Korean president going beyond inter-Korean relations to take the initiative for addressing long-standing problems in the relationship between North Korea and the US.

Moon: In his Liberation Day address on Aug. 15, President Moon emphasized the need to remember that, ‘The development of inter-Korean relations is not a side effect of progress in the relationship between North Korea and the United States.’ If this NK-US relationship does not improve, denuclearization will not be achieved, and if everything depends on denuclearization, inter-Korean relations and the establishment of a peace regime on the Korean Peninsula become more difficult.

The initiatives of an economic community, a peaceful community—everything will become fruitless. The National Liberation Day address was President Moon sending Pyongyang and Washington a message: that we would not stop at simply observing the North Korea-US relationship, but we would go our own way.

It’s akin to the approach of Philip D. Zelikow, who, at the University of Virginia in the mid-2000s, first came up with the idea of a formal peace treaty to end the war. According to Zelikow, the denuclearization of North Korea can only happen within a process of comprehensive peace. President Moon is thinking quite comprehensively.

Hani: Looking back at the Pyongyang summit, what left the strongest impression from your 2-day, 3-night visit as a member of the delegation?

Moon: When President Moon gave a speech at the May First Stadium to 150,000 Pyongyang residents, and the moment he got an agreement on denuclearization. These left the greatest impression. Symbolically, the moment President Moon and Chairman Kim hiked Mount Baekdu and held hands was quite important. Along with the scene of the two leaders crossing the military demarcation line at the Panmunjom Declaration of April 27, it was a moment that eloquently revealed the hopes of 80 million Koreans for peace and reunification.

Clear progress in inter-Korean relations demonstrated by summits

Hani: How does the Pyongyang summit compare to previous inter-Korean summits?

Moon: As more summits occur, it becomes possible to see a clear evolution. From general remarks (2000 summit between Kim Dae-jung and Kim Jong-il) to the particulars (2007 summit between Roh Moo-hyun and Kim Jong-il), and now, the signs of a practical measures (2018 summit between Moon Jae-in and Kim Jong-un), there has been progress.

If the first and second summits, between Presidents Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun and Chairman Kim Jong-il, were strongly exploratory, then the third, fourth and fifth summits between President Moon and Chairman Kim Jong-un have a more practical flavor.

In the first and second summits, the leaders were together for five to six hours. But by the fifth summit, they spent 17 hours together. There’s a difference in the depth of trust. There has never been such a density of summit meetings in the history of international political relations.”

Hani: Where would you place the Pyongyang summit in the 70-year history of the division of the two Koreas?

Moon: First, the summit presented a new hope and vision beyond the division and beyond enmity. Second, it demonstrated the artificiality and abnormality of the division itself, and clearly showed that inter-Korean relations could be normal. Third, through television and other visual media it showed North and South Korea becoming one, realistically and visually. We were with the two leaders the entire way; we all went to the May First Stadium, and we all hiked Mount Baekdu.”

By Lee Je-hun, senior staff writer, and Noh Ji-won, staff reporter

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

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