Moon keeps steady hand to cement catalyzer role in N.K. diplomacy
SEOUL, Unbowed by lingering skepticism and uncertainties over his peace crusade, South Korean President Moon Jae-in is keeping a steady hand to cement his country's role as a catalyzer for diplomacy with North Korea.
In a written interview with Yonhap News Agency and six other global news agencies, Moon renewed his desire for cross-border efforts to bolster economic cooperation and alleviate military tensions as a crucial means to facilitate the nuclear talks with Pyongyang.
He also put a positive spin on the overall Korea peace process, saying it's making "considerable" and "steady" headway while also noting ongoing "behind-the-scenes" dialogue to resume negotiations between Washington and Pyongyang.
His remarks came amid the growing prospects for renewed engagement with the communist regime after a monthslong hiatus since the no-deal summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in Hanoi in February.
"An improvement in inter-Korean relations and economic cooperation will also be conducive to negotiations for denuclearization. The advancement of inter-Korean ties is a driving force that can speed up denuclearization," Moon said.
"The more close-knit and stronger economic cooperation becomes, the harder it becomes to regress back to the past confrontational order. Revitalizing inter-Korean economic cooperation will contribute to creating a new cooperative order that can boost peace and prosperity," he added.
Moon's drive for inter-Korean economic cooperation, as well as the de-escalation of military tensions, has so far faced a slew of hurdles, such as international sanctions, a lack of progress in Pyongyang's nuclear disarmament and domestic discord.
Washington's high-pressure campaign on the North has called into doubt the feasibility of Seoul's push for cross-border economic projects, such as the resumption of the joint industrial complex in the North's border city of Kaesong.
Concerns about possible dissonance in the allies' approach to the North have also spelled trouble for the inter-Korean cooperation endeavors, with Moon's detractors arguing that he should slow the pace of his peace initiative.
But Moon made it clear that he would keep on an even keel, stressing the importance of trust between the two Koreas and between the United States and the North through diplomatic engagement.
"It is all about building trust through dialogue and negotiations and, again, enabling that trust to produce positive results of dialogue and negotiations," he said. "This is no doubt the quickest and most solid path to achieve denuclearization."
Moon's resolve to stay the course mirrors his adherence to the reconciliation efforts in 2017, when the North's sixth nuclear test and inter-continental ballistic missile launch drew searing rebukes from conservatives both in Seoul and Washington.
But his policy led to a flurry of brisk summit-driven diplomacy that resulted in three inter-Korean summits last year, and a summit between Trump and Kim in Singapore last June and another in Hanoi in February.
Despite criticism that the recent maritime security breach was caused by Moon's push to reduce tensions on land, sea and air, the liberal president held out the prospect of sweeping progress in inter-Korean arms control.
"The inter-Korean agreement in the military domain is particularly important in the process of denuclearization since it dramatically reduces the possibility of an accidental military skirmish between the two Koreas, thereby creating an environment conducive to dialogue concerning denuclearization," he said in the interview.
He was referring to the bilateral Comprehensive Military Agreement signed last year to reduce tensions, prevent accidental clashes and build trust. It includes disarming the Joint Security Area in the Demilitarized Zone, pulling out some border guard posts and setting up maritime, ground and air buffer zones.
Moon added that the full implementation of the accord will allow the Koreas to proceed to the stage of further enhancing transparency concerning military postures by exchanging pertinent information and observing military drills and training.
He also raised the prospects of the Koreas disarming threatening weapons, such as the North's long-range artillery pieces targeting the Seoul metropolitan area.
But Moon stressed that such prospects can materialize in line with progress in the North's denuclearization.
While noting that Washington and Pyongyang have been engaged in dialogue about their possible third summit, Moon called for the regime to return to the negotiation table and its leader to show "flexible determination" in nuclear negotiations.
"I still would like to point out that North Korea must come to the dialogue table at the earliest date possible in order to convince the international community of its willingness for complete nuclear dismantlement," he said.
A major bone of contention in the negotiations was the extent of Pyongyang's denuclearization in return for Washington's sanctions relief.
In the Hanoi summit, the North has offered to dismantle its mainstay Yongbyon nuclear complex, but the U.S. wanted to extract more concessions based on the belief that the complex doesn't represent the entirety of its sprawling nuclear program.
Moon cast the Yongbyon complex as a crucial part of the North's nuclear capacity, saying if it is completely demolished and verified, it would be "possible to say that the denuclearization of North Korea has entered an irreversible stage."
It is the first time that Moon has publicly underscored the significance of the Yongbyon complex in the North's nuclear program, which some conservatives have written off as a site full of outmoded, dilapidated facilities that can't be traded for sweeping sanctions relief.
The complex, 90 kilometers north of Pyongyang, is home to 390 buildings, including facilities to produce plutonium and highly enriched uranium, a radiochemistry laboratory and a nuclear fuel fabrication factory.
In the interview, Moon also acknowledged that it may not be possible to accomplish "everything" to entrench permanent peace within his five-year term, which ends in 2022, but he stressed the "rivers of peace and denuclearization" on the peninsula are already flowing.
"I hope that the flow will make headway to the extent that it cannot be reversed at least before the end of my term," he said.
Source: Yonhap news Agency