By Hujjatullah Zia
On the surface, agreement over denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula following the Inter-Korean Summit and Panmunjom Declaration seemed easy, but the latest US-DPRK high-level talks have proven otherwise.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s overnight visit to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea last week ended with disagreement, and was described as a “unilateral and gangster-like demand for denuclearization” and “deeply regrettable” by the DPRK.
The freeze between DPRK and ROK began to thaw with the first meeting of the Korean leaders on April 27 in the demilitarized zone, as both sides pledged to work for the “complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula”, an end to war and the promise to begin “a new age of peace”.
The Pyongyang-Seoul talks were received warmly by China and the United States, who welcomed the restoration of peace and prosperity and end of war for the negotiating sides. The two leaders on the Korean Peninsula, Kim Jong-un and Moon-Jae-in, also said they would work with Beijing and Washington to officially end the Korean War.
Subsequently, a series of meetings was held between DPRK and the US. But despite some progress, a consensus between the two sides has yet to be reached: Pyongyang released three American prisoners, stopped its nuclear and missile tests and blew up the Punggye-ri nuclear test site, and Washington suspended its joint military exercises with South Korea.
Disagreement over complete denuclearization continues, although Pyongyang comes to the table with straightforward demands: Denuclearization of the entire Korean Peninsula, withdrawal of US troops from the ROK, the lifting of sanctions and guaranteeing the security of the DPRK. But the US’ stance is different from that of DPRK and urges for “permanent, irreversible, verifiable” denuclearization of the the DPRK before sanctions are lifted, ensuring genuine “physical” denuclearization. This is in keeping with the “Libya model” of disclosing its full nuclear capacity and technology, and allowing international inspectors to check its nuclear plants.
Seeking to shift its focus to economic development and follow the models of reform and opening-up adopted by China and later by Vietnam and Laos, the DPRK is committed to promoting the peninsula peace process, but asks the US to take “action for action”. That is to say, there is a trust deficit between the two sides and Kim fears the Libya model denuclearization may ensure a regime change — the kind pursued in Libya by Obama’s administration and its NATO allies eight years after nuclear disarmament.
It is self-evident denuclearization of the peninsula is a common aspiration of the international community and will contribute to peace and prosperity in the region. The Korean people deserve to enjoy friendly relations in a secure atmosphere with no room for hostility or mistrust. To live a peaceful and prosperous life and play a constructive role in regional stability, the two sides need to enhance reconciliation and cooperation and settle their issues through amicable negotiation.
The international community will have to take concrete steps to strengthen this fragile détente and push all three sides to reach a consensus on denuclearization and turn the current armistice agreement into a peace treaty.
The “action for action” and “phased denuclearization” proposals from the DPRK are very logical. Pyongyang has already proven its goodwill by destroying its nuclear test sites, stopping its nuclear and missile tests and releasing prisoners and said it did not need to possess nuclear weapons if there was no military threat against it. Hence, its genuine intention for reconciliation and denuclearization leaves no room for fear or anxiety. Now it is up to the US to prove its commitment.
It is understandable turning back to or not being genuine in dialogue will discourage the DPRK and return the issue to where it was a year and a half ago, when Kim and US President Donald Trump were trading fiery rhetoric. If the same problems recur, regional peace and stability will be jeopardized in an ugly manner. Therefore, this opportunity must be seized as the best way to prevent political tension and regional turmoil. In short, it is time the Trump administration stopped its flip-flop strategy and lifted sanctions against the DPRK, which has the right of access to the global market and to open up its economy, just like any other nation
The author is an Afghan journalist and freelance writer based in Beijing.