President Moon Jae-in will hold summit talks with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un at the truce village of Panmunjeom on Friday. The latest developments point to a high likelihood of success in which much is at stake.
The Moon-Kim summit is the third of its kind between the leaders of the two Koreas, but it bears additional historic significance in that it is the first time that an inter-Korean summit will be held south of the border.
South Korean leaders Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun visited Pyongyang for talks with Kim Jong-il in 2000 and 2007, respectively, but the late North Korean leader did not keep his promise to visit the southern side.
Indeed, the scene of Kim Jong-un becoming the first North Korean leader to cross the border line that has been separating the two Koreas since the end of the 1950-53 Korean War would touch the hearts of the Korean people and many others around the world.
The truce village is the place where the US-led UN Command signed an armistice agreement with the North Korean and Chinese militaries in July of 1953. It would be truly symbolic that the two leaders would shake hands and discuss how to end hostility and establish peace and stability on the peninsula at the very place that symbolizes national division.
Another most positive aspect of the Moon-Kim meeting is that it represents a dramatic turnaround in the standoff between the North and the international community.
Indeed, the inter-Korean summit, as the South Korean slogan for the talks “Peace, A New Start” suggests, means that fears of war, which had been stoked by sparring between US President Donald Trump and Kim until recent months, are behind us -- for now -- and the first step is being taken to achieve a peaceful solution to the North Korean nuclear issue.
Symbolism and a flourishing reconciliatory mood surrounding the talks, however, should not overshadow the importance of the two leaders’ obligation to pull off substantial agreements.
The most important agreement, of course, is on the North’s denuclearization, for which Moon should bear several points in mind if he were not to repeat the failures of the past South Korean leaders.
As he walks into the meeting room at the Peace House in the southern part of the truce village, Moon should not be too impatient and optimistic about his historic encounter with Kim, the third-generation dynastic ruler of the communist country.
For Moon, the most precious lesson he needs to be reminded is that many past agreements, including those made by his liberal predecessors Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun and the current North Korean leader’s father, remained only in paper as far as denuclearization is concerned.
So Moon’s first and foremost job is to get the young North Korean leader to publicly -- in unequivocal terms -- pledge that his country will do away with nuclear weapons forever.
We make the call all the more because the North Korean statements about last week’s plenary session of the Workers Party raised suspicions about its intention to come to the negotiation table.
It did mention its willingness to suspend new missile and nuclear tests and the worn-out nuclear site in Punggye-ri, but neither the meeting report nor Kim mentioned denuclearization, which should mean complete, verifiable and irreversible dismantlement of all the nuclear devices it has produced and related facilities.
Only two days before the Moon-Kim talks, US President Trump said that complete denuclearization of North Korea means “They get rid of their nukes.” Trump also said repeatedly said that he would not repeat the mistakes of the past US administrations. His aides made it clear that the US will set a certain period of time -- one year or two for instance -- for completion of denuclearization of the North.
That too should be the bottom line for Moon as he tackles the North Korean leader. All shiny agreements -- be they about peace regime, easing of military tensions, improved inter-Korean relations -- will be meaningless without real progress on denuclearization.