By Kang Seung-woo
The period from May to September of next year could be a "golden time" to make headway in frayed inter-Korean ties and activate the stalled denuclearization talks between North Korea and the United States, a Seoul-based think tank said Tuesday.
The organization also said it also expects that the new U.S. administration to follow the joint statement issued after the Pyongyang-Washington summit in Singapore in June 2018, adding this would be a good sign for an improvement in bilateral relations.
"The May-September period could be the right time to resume peace talks and reach an agreement. In addition, during the span, the Tokyo Summer Olympics are scheduled to take place, where the relevant countries could officially declare an end to the Korean War," said Hong Min, the director of the North Korean Research Division at the Korea Institute for National Unification, during a press conference in Seoul.
The Moon Jae-in administration is keen to take advantage of the Tokyo Games to provide momentum to resuscitate the stalled nuclear talks between the North and the U.S., which it hopes will improve inter-Korean ties.
In order not to miss out on this "golden time," the Kim Jong-un regime is expected to offer conciliatory gestures such as holding inter-Korean military talks, and depending on the South's response, the North may offer high-ranking talks and even an inter-Korean summit, Hong claimed.
"The North may use inter-Korean ties as a stepping stone toward improved U.S.-North relations," he said.
He added: "The South Korean government needs to be fully prepared for the golden time to help the U.S. government draw the outlines in its North Korean policy by late spring."
When U.S. President-elect Joe Biden served as former President Barack Obama's vice president, the U.S. administration adopted a so-called "strategic patience" policy toward the North, which meant no engagement with the reclusive state as long as its leadership persisted with nuclear development and ballistic missile testing, but it was criticized as being far too passive.
However, this time, the North Korean leader may use his own version of strategic patience, the director said.
"The North Korean regime could take a wait-and-see stance until the Biden administration establishes its North Korea policy such as whether to accept the Singapore joint statement, and to observe whether the South and U.S. conduct their regular joint military exercises in the spring," Hong said.
"If the military drill is carried out in a low key manner or suspended, the North will take this as a good sign, which could lead to secret talks between Pyongyang and Washington even if the U.S. government has not formulated its policy toward the North."
In the historic first-ever U.S.-North Korea Singapore summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and Kim, they issued a joint statement highlighting that the two sides would make joint efforts to build a lasting and stable peace regime on the Korean Peninsula, while the North would commit to complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.
The North has urged the U.S. to continue the agreements and the Biden administration is likely to do so, according to the institute.
"When Biden contributed to Foreign Affairs magazine in March, he criticized the Trump administration for canceling the Iran nuclear deal after the change of government. In that sense, the Biden administration is expected to respect the joint statement (reached at the Singapore summit) and the South Korean government also needs to make efforts to convince the new government to continue with it," said Kim Sang-ki, a senior analyst at the institute.