A recently established office in South Korea’s Blue House, the executive office of President Moon Jae-in, is working quietly to ensure that nothing interferes with the upcoming summit of President Donald Trump and Chairman Kim Jong-un.
The Office of Peace and Arms Control, headed by Choi Jongkun, a secretary to the president and a U.S.-educated professor at Yonsei University on detail to the Blue House, has established a series of confidence-building agreements with the North to prevent any North-South military conflict that could adversely affect the upcoming Feb. 27 summit. Accordingly, this office has successfully negotiated a series of conventional military-related agreements with the North, in previously contested areas: The Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) and the Northern Limit Line (NLL) in the West Sea.
Historically, North Korea has used these sites to intensify pressure on the South. The sinking in March 2010 of the South Korean vessel Chonan, killing 46 South Korean sailors, was at the contested area in the NLL. This was the most recent of a series of previous conflicts on the NLL. Tension on the DMZ, a strip of land that serves as a buffer zone between the South and the North, has been a constant site of tension and conflict, since the Armistice of 1953 that ended the Korean War. So, for the past year, this new office in the Blue House has been meeting with counterparts in North Korea to ensure that the DMZ and NLL cease to be potential venues for conflict between the North and the South. And the impetus for this initiative was the three summits of Moon Jae-in with Kim Jong-un and the upcoming second summit of Mr. Trump and Mr. Kim, which South Korea and the international community all hope will be successful.
The speed and granularity of these confidence building agreements is impressive: A 135-kilometer maritime buffer zone on the West Sea and an 80-kilometer zone on the East Sea of the NLL; the cessation of all live-fire and maritime maneuver exercises, with the closing of all gun ports within the zones; designated non-fly zones and the banning of live-fire drills in these zones; the demilitarization of the Joint Security Area within the DMZ, with minesweeping operations and joint remains-recovery teams for soldiers killed during the Korean War; withdrawal of guard posts within the DMZ. There are other agreements to definitely include a communications channel between the South and the North for deconfliction and planning purposes.
These confidence-building measures with North Korea are encouraging. Hopefully, they will presage a willingness on the part of Kim Jong-un to reconfirm his willingness to completely denuclearize, in return for security assurances and economic development assistance. And at this second summit, there should be no ambiguity as to what the United States and South Korea mean by “complete denuclearization” — the complete, verifiable and irreversible dismantlement of North Korea’s nuclear weapons and nuclear facilities, with a verification protocol permitting nuclear monitors to visit non-declared suspect nuclear sites.
In return, Kim Jong-un will want security assurances, which could be a commitment from the United States to declare an end to the Korean War and movement toward normal relations with the United States, which could include the initial establishment of liaison offices in the respective capitals. Any summit that agrees to these over-arching objectives, and a charge to the lead negotiators to meet routinely and quickly to craft a roadmap for the establishment of these objectives should be viewed as a success.
The quiet preparatory work South Korea is doing to ensure that there are no obstacles to the success of this second summit is impressive and welcomed. Most welcomed will be a summit that provides the needed clarity on whether or not Kim Jong-un is serious about giving up his nuclear weapons in exchange for a normal relationship with the United States and the international community, and an end to sanctions and isolation. The close alliance of South Korea and the United States, with common objectives and concerns, will ensure that this second summit will be the bellwether of future relations with North Korea.
• Joseph R. DeTrani was the former special envoy for negotiations with North Korea. The views are the author’s and not of any government agency or department.
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