Koreas mark Pyongyang summit anniversary amid standstill in ties, as Seoul seeks new momentum

SEOUL, South and North Korea are commemorating the second anniversary of their Pyongyang summit deal this weekend in a quiet mood and with no enthusiasm.
Amid a drawn-out stalemate in bilateral ties and denuclearization talks, there’s no major official ceremony planned over the Sept. 19 Pyongyang Joint Declaration.
Under the agreement, signed by South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, the two sides were supposed to resume operations of the Kaesong Industrial Complex and the Mount Kumgang tour program, “as conditions mature,” and also to explore “substantial measures” to further advance exchanges and cooperation.
There has been little progress, however, with the Korea peace process stalled since Kim’s no-deal Hanoi summit with U.S. President Donald Trump early last year.
The Moon administration is struggling to revive the momentum of dialogue.
Speaking at a Cheong Wa Dae meeting with a group of Buddhist community leaders Friday, Moon said, “If (we) don’t give up hope for meetings and dialogue, we will surely move on to the path of peace and unification.”
Moon earlier suggested that Kim and Trump hold another summit ahead of the Nov. 3 U.S. presidential election, while many question whether it’s feasible.
Moon is expected to use his forthcoming U.N. speech in the hope of playing a “facilitator or mediator” role once again to help break the deadlock. He will likely make peace overtures toward the North in next week’s video speech at the virtual session of the U.N. General Assembly.
His government is eager for cooperation with the North on health care and medical services, especially in response to COVID-19, African swine fever and other infectious diseases, as well as partnerships on flood and other disaster control along their border.
It could pave the wave for wider-ranging joint projects such as individual tours and the reconnection of roads and railways, according to Moon’s aides.
It depends on Pyongyang’s attitude. Recently, the North’s leader has taken a low-key approach toward Seoul, and his sister Kim Yo-jong, known to have clout on inter-Korean affairs, has been out of the public eye for nearly two months. U.S. President Donald Trump is apparently less interested than before in immediate talks with North Korea, preoccupied with his reelection campaign.
Some observers had expected a possible breakthrough on the occasion of the Tokyo Olympic Games, as Moon and Kim agreed during their third summit held in Pyongyang that the two Koreas would “actively participate together” in the event. But it was postponed to 2021 due to coronavirus concerns.
A silver lining is that the North has refrained from taking provocative acts after blowing up an inter-Korean liaison office in its border town of Kaesong in June.
“I believe the North has willingness to comply with the (2018 summit) agreement in its own way,” Unification Minister Lee In-young told reporters during a visit to the truce village of Panmunjom on Wednesday.
Suh Wook, Seoul’s new defense minister, also stated in the National Assembly that the North is “making efforts, in general, to abide by the Sept. 19 military agreement” signed along with the summit accord.
They were apparently sending a message not only to people here but also North Koreans amid speculation about the odds of a so-called October Surprise.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, during an online seminar hosted by the Atlantic Council earlier this week, said, “It’s gone quiet publicly, but there’s still lots of work going on between ourselves and our allies in the region — the Japanese, the South Koreans — and even efforts with the North Koreans to come to understand where there may be opportunity as time goes on.”
The North has its diplomatic mission to the U.N. in New York, which is dubbed the “New York channel” for discussions with U.S. officials.
Rumor has it that Kim Yo-jong may be seeking to visit the U.S. in October for talks with Pompeo or Stephen Biegun, special representative for North Korea.
Some diplomatic sources bet on the possibility that the North will wait for the outcome of the U.S. presidential election, concentrating for a while on the response to the coronavirus, typhoon damage recovery work and preparations for the Oct. 10 military parade on the founding anniversary of the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea.
In their Sept. 9 phone conversation, Moon’s top national security adviser Suh Hoon and his White House counterpart Robert O’Brien agreed on the significance of the “coming several months” in efforts for the denuclearization of Korea.
They agreed to continue consultations on “various ways” for progress in the denuclearization and peace-building process, according to Cheong Wa Dae.
A dilemma for Moon is Seoul’s lack of leverage in Washington-Pyongyang relations, realistically, unlike a few years earlier.
Their push for a virtuous cycle of improved inter-Korean relations and progress in the denuclearization process has been unproductive, with tough international sanctions against the communist neighbor in place.
“There’s no single step forward in (the implementation of) the agreement to activate the Inter-Korean Joint Military Committee, which is the core element of the Sept. 19 military accord,” Park Won-gon, professor of international politics at Handong Global University, pointed out. “It’s regrettable that there seems to be no big possibility, for now, of (the two sides) moving forward beyond some symbolic measures.”
Moon has just about one and a half years left in office.
Without a significant breakthrough in the Korea peace drive, he would face growing concerns that the Sept. 19 Pyongyang summit deal may follow the fate of the Oct. 4 Pyongyang Declaration issued in 2007 by the then-leaders of the two Koreas — Roh Moo-hyun and Kim Jong-il.

Source: Yonhap News Agency

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