President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un are seeking to set up their third meeting. It would be good for them to meet again, but the planned meeting should not be talks for the sake of talks. The summit should produce concrete action plans on denuclearizing the North.
The first clues as to the prospects of the planned summit may come at inter-Korean high-level talks to be held Monday at the northern side of the truce village of Panmunjom.
In proposing the minister-level talks, the North made it clear that it wanted to discuss matters related to another meeting between the two leaders and follow-up measures to the Panmunjom Declaration they signed after their April 27 summit.
The Panmunjom Declaration called on the two sides to hold another summit in Pyongyang this fall. It also included agreements to work toward complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, halt hostile acts against each other and bolster cross-border exchanges.
The North Korean proposal for minister-level talks followed South Korean officials’ indications that the third meeting between Moon and Kim could take place before fall, possibly late this month or early next month.
Both the South and North have common interests in holding an early top-level meeting.
With the US not loosening sanctions against the North, the Pyongyang government needs momentum to push its demand that the US offer a security guarantee in the form of a declaration of a formal end to the Korean War.
The South Korean government is on the same page with the North on the issue. Moon and his aides have expressed hopes to make the declaration by the end of the year.
The two Koreas believe that closer inter-Korean relations will facilitate the declaration of the end of the 1950-53 Korean War as well as improve overall US-NK relations and the process of denuclearization.
But an obsession with declaring an end to the war -- without any substantial progress in denuclearization -- could jeopardize the entire peace process, as the North has not yet taken any substantial denuclearization action, like providing the inventory of its nuclear and missile arsenal.
Prospects of early denuclearization have darkened with the North apparently going back on its denuclearization commitment. Recent intelligence and media reports have pointed to the North’s continuing nuclear and missile activities.
And in Iran, another state confronting the US over nuclear armament, the North’s foreign minister publicly threatened to preserve its nuclear capacity.
“Since we know that the US will never give up its hostile policy toward us, we will hold onto our nuclear knowledge,” Ri Yong-ho was quoted by local media as saying in a meeting with the head of the Iranian parliament last week.
This is yet another indication that the North does not intend to denuclearize soon. What should be noted is that North Korean leader Kim hopes to meet Moon while maintaining such a position.
The North has maintained that denuclearization is a matter to be discussed mainly with the US, not South Korea. It has also used peace and reconciliatory events with the South as grounds for its negotiations with the US. There seems to be no change in the North’s tactic, which raises skepticism about the planned summit.
The first summit between Moon and Kim -- the first inter-Korean summit in 11 years -- was hailed as it took place at the peak of tension between the North and the US.
The second summit, which came with just one day’s notice, was also taken positively as it raised hopes for the start of a sort of simple, protocol-free shuttle diplomacy. Any such freshness is gone now, and the planned meeting should bring about a concrete denuclearization plan. There should be no more handshakes for the sake of handshakes.