McLARTY UPDATE: Korea Update – Inter-Korean Summit
April 27, 2018
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- South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un pledged dramatic steps to reduce tensions on the Korean Peninsula in the first inter-Korean summit in more than a decade.
- In their joint declaration following the meeting on the southern side of the truce village of Panmunjom, the two leaders agreed to work toward a “common goal” of denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula and to pursue talks with the United States and possibly China within this year to formally end the Korean War.
- The statement, however, left out significant details, including specific steps towards abandonment of North Korea’s nuclear programs.
- The White House praised the inter-Korean summit, saying the “Korean peace agreement is a step toward denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, but it is just one step.” It also reiterated that the maximum pressure campaign will “continue unabated.”
- The pledges made by the two Korean leaders lay an important foundation for the prospective summit between President Trump and Kim, but it remains far from clear that the North is prepared to discuss denuclearization on terms meaningful to the United States.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un concluded on Friday a historic inter-Korean summit, marking the first time a North Korean leader set foot in the South. Following a day of surprisingly informal and convivial meetings that were broadcast live in Korea, the two leaders agreed to work toward a “common goal” of denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula and to pursue talks with the United States and possibly China within this year to formally end the 1950-53 Korean War. The summit, which took place at the border village of Panmunjom, came amid a prolonged thaw of tensions on the Korean peninsula following a series of North Korean nuclear and missile tests in 2017.
The “Panmunjom Declaration”
The most concrete result from the summit was a formula for working towards peace on the Korean Peninsula embodied in a joint statement dubbed the “Panmunjom Declaration.”
Most significantly, the two Koreas “confirmed the common goal of realizing, through complete denuclearization, a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula,” and stated their intent to “actively” pursue trilateral meetings with the United States or quadrilateral meetings with both the U.S. and China (signatories of the Korean War armistice agreement) aimed at “declaring an end to the War, turning the armistice into a peace treaty, and establishing a permanent and solid peace regime.”
They also agreed to cease all hostile acts against each other in every domain, including land, air and sea, and to take steps aimed at promoting peace and reconciliation between the divided Koreas and their people, including a resumption of reunion programs for separated families. The two leaders agreed to hold “frequent and candid” discussions on issues vital to the nation and to strengthen mutual trust and the positive momentum towards the advancement of inter-Korean relations. Towards this end, President Moon agreed to visit Pyongyang in the fall.
Denuclearization on Whose Terms?
The joint declaration was also significant for what it left out. Although it mentioned denuclearization, the statement stopped short of outlining specific steps for the abandonment of North Korea’s nuclear programs, leading to skepticism about the level of Pyongyang’s commitment given its past abandonment of denuclearization agreements, including the 1992 Joint Declaration between the South and the North. The statement also made no mention of the international sanctions placed on the North Korean regime, the U.S. forces in South Korea, nor nuclear and missile tests.
The nuclear question loomed very large this time around after a year of threats, nuclear testing, and missile launches that demonstrated the North’s ability to not only produce, but also deliver such weapons via long-range ballistic missiles that could potentially reach as far as the continental U.S.
Takeaways for Washington
Meanwhile in Washington, the White House issued a statement shortly after the inter-Korean summit began expressing its hopes that the talks “will achieve progress toward a future of peace and prosperity for the entire Korean Peninsula.” The statement also said the U.S. looks forward to continuing “robust discussions” with its ally, South Korea, in preparation for the planned meeting between President Trump and Kim Jong-un in the “coming weeks.” Prior to the Moon-Kim meeting, Seoul and Washington made clear that there would be a Moon-Trump meeting ahead of Trump’s summit with the North Korean leader.
President Trump praised the “historic” meeting between North and South Korea on Twitter saying, “Good things are happening, but only time will tell!” Noting the agreement to officially end the war, he later added that the U.S. should be “very proud” of what was taking place on the peninsula. In a third tweet, he gave credit to Chinese President Xi Jinping for his “great help” in the process, particularly at the border of North Korea.
The White House issued a stronger statement today clarifying its position on the “Panmunjom declaration” and the “maximum pressure” campaign against North Korea:
“The fact that North Korea has come to the table without the United States making any concessions speaks to the strength of President Trump’s leadership and is a clear sign that the intense pressure of sanctions is working. The Korean peace agreement is a step toward denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, but it is just one step. Any talks, promises, and assurances from North Korea will be met with reservation, vigilance, and verification. Planning for the United States and North Korea Summit continues, but as we’ve said before – the pressure campaign will continue unabated.”
“A Step Toward Denuclearization”?
In sum, the meeting between South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un represents an important development as it contributes to the reduction of tensions on the Korean peninsula and to the positive momentum leading up to the prospective U.S.-North Korea summit. The third inter-Korean summit built upon the two previous summits in 2000 and 2007 as the two leaders pledged to make progress on substantive issues between the two Koreas. However, many questions remain unanswered. Most notably, it remains doubtful whether Pyongyang’s definition of denuclearization aligns with that of the U.S. definition (complete, verifiable, and irreversible denuclearization of North Korea), and whether the two sides will be able to reach a clearer agreement on denuclearization in the upcoming summit between President Trump and Kim Jong-un. As the White House made clear in its statement today, the Korean peace agreement constitutes “a step toward denuclearization” of the peninsula, but may very well be “just one step” in a long-winding process toward denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.