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Analysis, Diplomacy, Opinion

Maintain maximum pressure, not misled by Pyongyang’s smiling facade

An editorial in the Yomiuri Shimbun argues that maximum pressure must be maintained on North Korea, despite its recent charm offensive.

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Updated: March 9, 2018

Having won South Korea over to its side, North Korea immediately accelerated its moves aiming at dialogue with the United States. The countries concerned must maintain the maximum pressure on Pyongyang toward its denuclearization, without being misled by its “smile diplomacy.”

A senior South Korean delegation, including special envoys of South Korean President Moon Jae In, held talks with Kim Jong Un, chairman of the Workers’ Party of Korea, in Pyongyang. The South Korean government announced that the two sides have agreed to hold an inter-Korea summit in late April in Panmunjom, a village in the demilitarized zone.

According to the announcement, the North clearly affirmed its “commitment to the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” and indicated its stance that it “would have no reason to possess nuclear weapons should the safety of its regime be guaranteed and military threats against North Korea removed.”

Having breached its denuclearization agreements with other countries, including the United States and South Korea, the North has pushed forward with the goal of possessing nuclear weapons. There is no way to believe that Pyongyang has changed this policy. Pyongyang seems to have merely put in different words its previous assertion that it would “possess nuclear weapons to counter the U.S. nuclear threat.”

The North Korean side is said to have signaled that it is willing to engage in negotiations with the United States over both denuclearization and the normalization of bilateral relations and made clear that it will not conduct any nuclear or ballistic missile tests as long as the dialogue is ongoing. It has also promised not to use not only nuclear weapons but also conventional weapons against the South.

Learn from the past

Not to be forgotten, however, is the fact that the North has made no reference whatsoever to any concrete steps it will take toward denuclearization. There is a possibility that any dialogue could be used to buy time for the North to continue its nuclear and missile development programs.

Lying behind the North’s taking a dialogue offensive is undoubtedly the fact that the United States has increased its military pressure and economic sanctions against North Korea.

It is worrisome that the Moon administration, which should hold out against the North by cooperating with other members of the international community, including the United States, has been too eager regarding inter-Korean dialogue and cooperation.

Any inter-Korean summit would be meaningless if it does not contribute to solving the nuclear issue. It is feared that there would be a situation in which South Korea, taking the opportunity of the summit, may embark on economic cooperation and other activities with Pyongyang without sufficient consideration, boring a hole in international efforts to contain North Korea. The planned U.S.-South Korea military exercises must be implemented steadily.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said: “Past dialogues did not lead to denuclearization. It is necessary to respond to North Korea taking into account that lesson from the past.” His having made such a request was much to the point. It is vital for Japan to closely coordinate its opinions with both the United States and South Korea.

While signaling his idea of positively considering holding a dialogue with North Korea, U.S. President Donald Trump said, “We are prepared to go whichever path is necessary.” By saying this, he hinted that the option still remains of using U.S. military might.

The U.S. government will be briefed directly by special envoys for Moon on the content of the recent talks with North Korea. Washington needs to make complete arrangements for promoting its consistent policy by appointing officials, including a new special envoy in charge of North Korea and an ambassador to Seoul.

(This article originally appeared in the Yomiuri Shimbun)

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