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Asia Today ISSN 1861-4604 Monday, June 25, 2018

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South Korea urges North to denuclearize in significant talks

Talks between the two Koreas

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SEOUL, South Korea - After more than two years, the first formal engagement in talks between the two Koreas, indeed was watched closely by all world powers and everything from the approach to the statements made later were scrutinized in detail.

On Tuesday, as North Korea’s chief negotiator Ri Son Gwon began the talks, striking a jovial tone, it was all soon to turn sour once again, when talks turned to North’s possible denuclearization.

Talks started with jokes, from the North Korean side as Gwon joked about how the subzero temperatures reflected frosty ties.

The North Korean chief negotiator even asked for the proceedings to be broadcast live, but the request was turned down by South Korea. 

A few hours into the talks, South Korea announced that North Korea would join the Olympics next month in Pyeongchang, a ski town not far from their shared border.

But as the day wore on, both the sides sought to address the elephant in the room - North Korea’s dangerous and threatening nuclear weapons program.

South Korea proposed talks on ending North Korea’s nuclear weapons program, and the mood immediately appeared to sour. 

Gwon issued a “strong complaint” that Seoul dared to even raise the possibility of denuclearization at such an early stage.

However, many took the day’s talks positively, pointing out that North Korea’s participation in the Winter Games starting February 9 brings potential benefits to the troubled Korean peninsula, which has been divided for over 70 years. 

While the North Korea leader, Kim Jong Un would get the opportunity to ease the global pressure on his isolated regime, the South Korean President Moon Jae-in can bet on a more peaceful Olympics and claim a victory in his push for dialogue.

However, even as both the Koreas engaged in a day of peaceful talks, sans the heated rhetoric that experts have to come to expect from North Korea - the long-term dilemma over its nuclear weapons remained unchanged.

North Korea continues to believe that its nuclear weapons and its ability to use them against the U.S.  is the only thing protecting the regime against an American invasion. 

U.S. President Donald Trump - who has engaged in a heated and often personal war of words with the North Korean President - views Kim Jong Un’s nuclear arsenal as an intolerable threat, one that must be eradicated by war if necessary.

Meanwhile, South Korean media reports noted that the North Korean chief negotiator Ri Son Gwon concluded talks on Tuesday saying that his country’s “high-end strategic weapons” are targeted at the U.S.

Before the talks began, the U.S. and Japan sought reassurances from the South Korean president that he would continue to press Kim Jong Un over his weapons program. 

In recent months, North Korea has tested its most powerful nuclear device yet and shot off missiles capable of reaching the U.S.

Subsequently, it has faced United Nations sanctions that have restricted oil imports and have cut off about 90 percent of North Korea’s export revenue.

Kim Jong Un had blasted the “vicious sanctions” in his annual New Year’s Day address and thrashed American efforts to isolate North Korea on the world stage. 

He also taunted Trump and boasted of a credible nuclear deterrent that would prevent the U.S. “from starting an adventurous war.”

However, in the same speech, the North Korean leader took a rare and surprisingly softer tone at addressing its neighbor and rival South Korea and pitched talks with Seoul, in a bid to exacerbate tensions in Seoul’s alliance with the U.S. 

He called for Koreans to solve their own problems, a sentiment that was repeated in the joint statement from the talks on Tuesday.

The call for talks came as a brief and personal victory for the South Korean leader, who entered presidency with the vow of preventing a war at all costs and engaging in peaceful talks with its rogue neighbor and an ever present threat next door.

However, according to Youngshik Bong, a researcher at Yonsei Institute for North Korean Studies in Seoul pointed out that these talks come at a time when South Korea is making all moves to avoid the U.S. from cutting a deal with Pyongyang that freezes its nuclear program in a way that eliminates a threat to Washington while leaving Seoul exposed.

Bong said, “Then South Korea will be left cold and dry, with North Korea still possessing nuclear weapons and missiles.”

While Trump suggested on Saturday that he could meet Kim Jong Un under the right conditions, calling the talks over the Olympics “a big start,” the U.S. President has made no formal comments on how them meeting went down on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, both the Koreas also agreed on Tuesday to hold a military dialogue and resolve problems through negotiations. 

The South's government confirmed that an agreement was reached to reinstate a military hotline suspended two years ago.

In February, the North has agreed to send a National Olympic Committee delegation, athletes, cheerleaders, art performers, spectators, a taekwondo demonstration team and media to the games, while the South would provide the necessary amenities and facilities.

They plan to hold another round of talks, though an exact date hasn’t been agreed on so far.

On Tuesday, a commentary in North Korea’s state-run Minju Joson quoted Kim Jong Un’s message to the U.S. and said “it’ll be wise for the U.S. to face reality” and accept North Korea as a nuclear state.

 

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