|President Moon Jae-in, left, smiles with Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon during a Cabinet meeting at Cheong Wa dae, Tuesday.|
By Do Je-hae
President Moon Jae-in said Tuesday that Sunday's historic de facto "third summit" between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un will provide a "clear and new" impetus in terms of advancing the process to completely end hostile relations between Washington and Pyongyang.
"Our people and the world watched Sunday as historic moments unfolded at Panmunjeom," President Moon said at the start of a weekly Cabinet meeting in the presidential office, according to press pool reports. "North Korea and the U.S. did not sign an agreement, but through actions, they put an end to their hostility and declared an official beginning to a new era of peace."
Moon gave a positive assessment of the talks between Trump and Kim, which lasted for more than 50 minutes, at the inter-Korean border in the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) that separates the Koreas. In particular, he underlined that the two foes of the 1950-53 Korean War have virtually terminated hostile relations.
Moon also stressed that it was the first time for a U.S. leader to set foot on North Korean soil. "For the first time in 66 years since the 1953 Korean Armistice Agreement, the leaders of the two countries that fought each other shook hands at the Military Demarcation Line (MDL), with the U.S leader crossing the MDL at the guidance of the North Korean leader without any bodyguards."
The President also revealed that he briefed Trump on the significance of reopening the joint industrial complex in the North Korean city of Gaeseong, which was closed abruptly. "I explained to President Trump the situation in which half of South Korea's population resides in Seoul and its metropolitan area, just 40 kilometers from the MDL, and more than 100,000 Americans reside in or near Seoul on a regular basis," Moon said. "I also had the opportunity to explain the positive impact that the Gaeseong Industrial Complex has had on inter-Korean economics and our security."
During Trump's June 29 and 30 Seoul visit, which included a stop at Observation Point Ouellette, just 25 meters from the MDL, the leaders of South Korea and the U.S. were able to get a view of North Korea ahead of Trump's meeting with Kim. Moon underlined that it was the first time for the leaders of the two countries to visit the border in suits and ties instead of military uniforms and body armor.
Moon said this was due to the peaceful mood created the Sept. 19 military agreement last year aimed at easing tension. "All this has been made possible not only because of the trust between the leaders, but also because military tensions between the two Koreas have been greatly eased, with the Joint Security Area (JSA) near Panmunjeom being disarmed."
Some analysts say the talk of ending hostilities is "too early" since North Korea has not made visible progress in its denuclearization.
"Pyongyang has not taken steps to freeze its nuclear weapons, let alone dismantle them. Under these circumstances, it is hasty and premature to say the hostilities have been removed," said Kim Sung-han, dean of the Graduate School of International Studies at Korea University. "If the hostilities were really to be terminated, then North Korea should take specific actions for nuclear dismantlement."
Experts are stressing that South Korea's role in future negotiations needs to correspond to reality. "We need to closely watch the working-level talks and prepare a very detailed and precise response," Kim said.
A careful stance is all the more important considering the latest news reports that the Trump administration may be moving further away from the U.S. leader's original verbal pledge for the full denuclearization of North Korea.
Specifically, public opinion about the reopening of the Gaeseong Industrial Complex, considered one of the strongest symbols of inter-Korean economic cooperation, has been mixed. According to the latest survey by Hankook Research, 47.1 percent of respondents supported the unconditional reopening of the complex, while 44.6 percent said it should not happen until North Korea gets rid of its nuclear weapons.
The Ministry of Unification approved a visit request to North Korea from some lawmakers and 190 business owners who previously did business in Gaeseong before it was closed, but the visit has been delayed.