|President Moon Jae-in presides over a meeting with senior presidential secretaries at Cheong Wa Dae in Seoul, Tuesday. Yonhap|
By Lee Min-hyung
President Moon Jae-in is taking a cautious approach to responding to the working-level denuclearization talks between the U.S. and North Korea in Sweden. Cheong Wa Dae has eyed the resumption of the talks as a strong impetus for accelerating the President's "peace process," which has been put on hold due to prolonged deadlock in nuclear negotiations between the foes of the Korean War.
In a weekly meeting with senior presidential secretaries, Tuesday, Moon refrained from commenting on the one day of negotiations, and instead shifted his focus to the local economy, saying the government was placing "special attention" on revving this up by securing new growth engines.
Moon's silence has raised doubts about his role as a "facilitator" in the nuclear talks between Washington and Pyongyang. Cheong Wa Dae has instead stressed that it was not appropriate for the South to make any rash judgment on the matter that would create room for misunderstanding.
Critics have argued that now is the time for the South to remain silent, as Moon can only play a limited role. Moon's role as a facilitator and mediator for the denuclearization talks was crucial last year when leaders of the two sides telegraphed their willingness for this.
"As of now, the most ideal thing for President Moon or the presidential office to do is to take a deep breath when it comes to approaching North Korean affairs and adopting a wait-and-see posture without giving any public messages," an expert on inter-Korean affairs said on condition of anonymity.
He said the North would shift part of the responsibility onto the South Korean government if the talks fail to make progress, citing things such as the joint military exercises between Seoul and Washington.
North Korea has recently denounced the South for trying to "bring in more 'war weapons' aimed at attacking the North" via its propaganda outlets.
"Against a similar backdrop, the government needs to refrain from sending any signals to the North for inter-Korean reconciliation projects as of now, as this will do not increase Seoul's negotiating leverage with Pyongyang," he said.
Unlike the talks between Washington and Pyongyang, inter-Korean relations are showing little sign of improvement despite a series of inter-Korean summits last year.
Last weekend, U.S. Special Representative for North Korea Stephen Biegun met with his North Korean counterpart, Kim Myong-gil in Sweden, for working-level negotiations to discuss their sides' respective understanding of complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and concomitant sanctions relief. Against positive expectations, they failed once again to reach any compromise on the issue.
The restart of the nuclear talks is crucial for Moon amid the complete suspension of talks between the two Koreas in the wake of the failed Hanoi summit between President Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un last February.