Ball in Kim Jong-un's court for 'end of war' declaration

North Korea leader Kim Jong-un gestures during a speech at the third plenary meeting of the Eighth Politburo of the Workers' Party of Korea, which closed June 18, in this June 19 photo carried by the Korean Central News Agency. Yonhap

Moon may send letter to persuade North Korea to join end-of-war declaration

By Nam Hyun-woo

President Moon Jae-in's proposal of declaring an official end to the 1950-53 Korean War now appears to hinge on North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, as the U.S. and China seem to have indicated their support for such a quadrilateral declaration, which could entice Pyongyang to return to talks on its denuclearization.

During a meeting with U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, Thursday, Moon said, "Our administration has proposed the end-of-war declaration in order to pass on a situation, in which the U.S., South Korea and North Korea are in talks, to the next administration. Close cooperation between Seoul and Washington is more important than anything else."

In a separate meeting between Austin and his South Korean counterpart Suh Wook, also on Thursday, the two sides shared the two countries' ideas on the declaration, sources said, though it was not mentioned in a joint statement released after their meeting.

The meetings over declaring an end to the war come amid signs that consultations between South Korea and the U.S. over a draft version of the declaration are picking up speed.

A senior official at the Ministry of Unification said Nov. 24 that the Seoul-Washington negotiations over the clauses of an end-of-war declaration "had entered their final stage," adding, "it will be a major step forward if the declaration helps build trust without incurring a radical change in the current situation."

The comment was interpreted as South Korea and the U.S. seeking to include a clause that the declaration will not affect the armistice status of the two Koreas, thus allowing the United Nations Command in South Korea and U.S. Forces Korea to remain as they are today.

U.S. news outlet Politico also reported that the two sides were in the final stages of parsing the language of the declaration, and were narrowing their differences over a clause related to denuclearization.

South Korea's National Security Advisor Suh Hoon, left, poses with Chinese Communist Party head of foreign affairs Yang Jiechi during their meeting at a hotel in Tianjin, China, Thursday. Joint Press Corps

China has also expressed its interest in Moon's proposal. According to Cheong Wa Dae, Moon's national security advisor Suh Hoon had a meeting with Chinese Communist Party head of foreign affairs Yang Jiechi, Thursday, and the latter expressed China's "support on the end-of-war declaration, which will contribute to peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula."

Given Beijing's relations with North Korea, China's support could be leverage in persuading North Korean leader Kim to join in the discussions for the declaration. Since China is seeking to have the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics as a vehicle showcasing messages of peace, the situation is becoming favorable regarding Moon's proposal.

Then-U.S. President Donald Trump, left, and North Korea leader Kim Jong-un shake hands as South Korean President Moon Jae-in watches on during their meeting at Panmunjeom, June 30, 2019. Yonhap

With three out of the four parties involved in the Korean War showing their interest in the end-of-war declaration, Seoul is now escalating its efforts to bring North Korea forward for talks.

The vernacular Kookmin Ilbo newspaper reported Monday that Cheong Wa Dae plans to deliver a New Year celebration letter from Moon to Kim that will share the current status of the end-of-war discussions with the U.S. and China.

The presidential office neither confirmed nor denied the report, reiterating a previous stance of: "The presidential office is making various efforts with the U.S. and other partners for the end-of-war declaration."

Against this backdrop, experts said mutual threat reduction measures should be considered in order to attract the North for talks on the declaration and further moves toward a peace treaty.

"For example, if North Korea freezes its nuclear program and accepts inspections of its nuclear facilities in Yongbyon, South Korea and the U.S. may respond by halting their joint military exercises," said Cheong Seong-chang, director of the Center for North Korean Studies at the Sejong Institute.

"If the North accepts a phased shutdown of its nuclear facilities, South Korea can respond by controlling its military expansion and the U.S. can join by promising a non-aggression pact. Both South Korea and the U.S. should seriously consider these options, and the involved countries (the two Koreas, the U.S. and China) should come up with plans to have four-way, high-level talks to discuss the options."

Nam Hyun-woo

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