Cold War document reveals NK’s proposal of neutral state on peninsula

By Yeo Jun-suk
  • Published : Mar 30, 2018 - 16:50
  • Updated : Mar 30, 2018 - 16:50

North Korea had floated the idea to the United States of building a neutral state on the Korean Peninsula when the communist state witnessed the late 1980s detente that led to the collapse of the Cold War, according to South Korea‘s diplomatic document revealed Friday.

Released to the public by the Foreign Ministry, the document said North Korea asked former Soviet Union President Mikhail Gorbachev to deliver such proposals to then-US President Ronald Reagan during their summit in 1987. 

Titled as the Democratic People‘s Republic of Korea’s proposal for establishing buffer zone and neutral country, the document also included the scaling down of the two Koreas’ armed forces, removal of nuclear weapons on the Korean Peninsula and withdrawal of US troops stationed in South Korea.

“The two Koreas should dramatically cut the number of troops and reduce it to the point for self-defense,” the document quoted North Korea as saying. “The two Koreas should keep the number of troops less than 100,000 for each… All nuclear weapons and foreign troops must be withdrawn.” 

Diplomatic document released by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Yonhap

The North Korean proposal was hand-delivered by Gorbachev to Reagan during their meeting in Washington on Dec. 9, 1987. But the idea, however, was later dismissed as “unrealistic” by both Seoul and Washington, which doubted the hidden motive behind Pyongyang’s overture, according to the document.

About a week later, South Korea’s foreign ministry and its embassy in the US exchanged diplomatic cables, in which then-Foreign Minister Choi Kwang-soo described the North’s proposal as “grandiose and unrealistic” and instructed his views to be shared in Washington, the document said.

The US response to North Korea’s proposal was briefed to the foreign minister in January 1988, the document added, noting that Washington echoed the South Korean skepticism over the North Korea’s diplomatic overture.

“It is the issue that should be handled by the South Korean government,” the report quoted the US government as saying. “Such a proposal is unrealistic without North Korea’s tangible and viable measures to build confidence in economic and humanitarian issue.”

After being met with skepticism by the US and North Korea, Moscow’s then-foreign minister Eduard Shevardnadz proposed his own version of expanding the detente to the inter-Korean relations by pushing for the two Koreas’ simultaneous admission to the United Nations under the unified country title.

However, the idea was not fulfilled. The two Koreas joined the UN simultaneously in 1991, but earned the membership with their own official titles -- Republic of Korea for South Korea and Democratic People’s Republic of Korea for North Korea.