South Korean President Moon Jae-in, right, and the first lady, Kim Jung-sook, bid farewell to North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, left, and his wife Ri Sol-ju Friday night after a dinner banquet and a performance at Peace House in Panmunjom. [JOINT PRESS CORPS]
Kim’s pledges raised the stakes for the upcoming meeting between him and U.S. President Donald Trump. At last week’s summit, Moon and Kim avoided detailed discussions on how to dismantle the North’s nuclear arsenal, which means that will have to be worked out between Pyongyang and Washington, with Moon playing go-between.
“Some say we are only closing down parts [of the nuclear site] that are not functioning, but you will find once you make a visit that there are two giant underground tunnels in addition to the ones that were known previously,” Kim was quoted as saying by Yoon Young-chan, the senior presidential secretary for public affairs. “And they [the two tunnels] are functioning very well.”
Kim’s promises raised hopes he might be sincere in his promise in the Panmunjom Declaration, the product of the April 27 inter-Korean summit, in which South and North Korea “confirmed the common goal of realizing, through complete denuclearization, a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula.”
Kim’s comments on the two previously unknown tunnels appeared to have been made to quell suspicions by North Korea critics that the North was making a meaningless gesture by demolishing two old underground tunnels that can no longer function after being damaged in six nuclear tests.
Suspicions about North Korea’s genuineness are rooted in its demolition of a water cooling tower at the Yongbyon nuclear facility on June 27, 2008, which Kim’s father Kim Jong-il touted as proof of his willingness to denuclearize. Less than a year after the demolition of the tower, the North carried out its second nuclear test on May 25, 2009.
By mentioning two more underground tunnels that outsiders did not know about, Kim was trying to send a signal of his sincerity.
“The remarks and behavior seen so far by Kim are totally different from the North’s past actions,” Cheong Seong-chang, a senior fellow at the Sejong Institute specializing in North Korea affairs, told the Korea JoongAng Daily on Sunday.
“He agreed with President Moon on complete denuclearization. He also met with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who is known to have a hard-line view on the North. If Kim wasn’t serious about denuclearization, he would not have met with Pompeo or Moon, but he did.”
Cheong believes Kim has already come too far to renege on his denuclearization promise, as doing so would mean he had “tricked Moon, Pompeo, Chinese President Xi Jinping and his own people in the North.”
It’s expected that the Punggye-ri site will be shut down before the Kim-Trump summit so Kim can come to the negotiation table appearing sincere about denuclearization.
Kim’s promise to close the nuclear site next month jibes with a landmark decision made on April 20 at a plenary session of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of North Korea in which Kim declared there would be no more nuclear and intercontinental ballistic missile tests and he would close down the Punggye-ri nuclear test site, about 600 kilometers (372.8 miles) northeast of Pyongyang, the North’s capital. Another sign that Kim might be serious about dismantling his nuclear arsenal is the North’s state-run media’s detail coverage of the April 27 summit. Running a total of 61 summit-related pictures on four pages of its April 28 edition, the Rodong Sinmun gave detailed accounts of the Moon-Kim meeting.
Notably, it printed the full version of the Panmunjom Declaration signed at the meeting that stipulates the two Koreas’ commitment to “complete denuclearization.”
So even to his own people, Kim has made denuclearization of some sort his official policy.
The Blue House views Kim’s promises in that way. “Chairman Kim’s statement that he will shut down the nuclear site and make it public is a statement of his willingness to proactively participate in the verification of the North’s denuclearization process,” Yoon said Sunday.
Kim also told Moon at the Friday summit that his country had no reason to be armed with nuclear weapons and suffer from international sanctions if the North and United States built up a sense of trust and the United States made pledges of non-aggression.
“Why should we have to continue suffering [under economic sanctions] for having nuclear weapons if we build up a sense of trust with the U.S. through frequent meetings and if the U.S. ends the [Korean] war and promises us nonaggression?” Kim was quoted as saying.
Kim said that Washington would find out he was “not the kind of a person who would fire a nuclear missile into the Pacific or in the direction of South Korea or against the U.S.” if they talked to him. But he also commented that the United States had an “inherent dislike of the North.”
In another sign of mending ties with Seoul, Kim said he would turn back North Korean standard time. In 2015, Pyongyang declared a North Korea Standard Time that is 30 minutes behind South Korea, an expression of disgruntlement with the conservative Park Geun-hye government’s North Korea policy.
“I saw two clocks in the reception room of Peace House. One was for Seoul time and the other for Pyongyang time. Seeing the two clocks gave me a pain in my heart,” Kim was quoted as saying.
“Let’s unify the time first.”
To follow through with the Panmunjom Declaration, inter-Korean military general-level meetings will take place in the coming weeks to discuss the transformation of the demilitarized zone into a so-called peace zone, as Moon and Kim agreed.
Also expected are military talks on devising a “practical scheme to turn the areas around the Northern Limit Line in the West Sea into a maritime peace zone,” as stipulated in the joint declaration.
Talks between officials from Red Cross from the South and North to arrange reunions of families separated by the 1950-53 Korean War will also take place in the coming weeks. The two agreed to hold reunions on the occasion of Liberation Day on Aug. 15. The last family reunions took place in October 2015.
BY KANG JIN-KYU [email@example.com]