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Seoul wants Washington to reaffirm Singapore agreement during summit

Then-President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un pose during their summit in Singapore in this June 12, 2018 photo. Yonhap
Then-President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un pose during their summit in Singapore in this June 12, 2018 photo. Yonhap

By Nam Hyun-woo

The South Korean government is seeking to use this week's summit between President Moon Jae-in and U.S. President Joe Biden as a vehicle to revive its North Korea diplomacy and facilitate inter-Korean peace talks, according to government sources and experts, Monday.

In doing so, Seoul is looking to send a message to North Korea through a joint statement to be announced after the Moon-Biden summit, hoping this will include the Biden administration's reaffirmation of the 2018 Singapore agreement between North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and Biden's predecessor Donald Trump, or an end-of-war declaration.

According to sources, the government wants to have the Singapore agreement put on the agenda for the summit scheduled for this Friday (local time). This is interpreted as a bid to have the Biden administration build its North Korea policy upon the declaration which includes the establishment of new U.S.-North Korea relations, a lasting and stable peace on the Korean Peninsula and the peninsula's complete denuclearization.

Though the Biden administration is yet to disclose whether its North Korea policy is based on the agreement, Moon said during last week's press conference that the U.S. aims to "build upon the foundation of the Singapore declaration," and the South Korean government "welcomes" this direction.

While saying he will address the North Korea issue during the summit, Moon added that such a policy direction is "almost in line with" what the South Korean government has desired, urging Pyongyang to return to negotiations.

"The Singapore declaration is the most advanced and comprehensive agreement signed by the heads of the U.S. and the North," said Hong Min, a senior researcher at the state-run Korea Institute for National Unification. "It is a U.S.-North Korea agreement reached during the Kim Jong-un regime and contains Pyongyang's commitment to the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. Rebuilding U.S.-North Korea relations on the basis of this agreement seems to be the fastest way for initiating a peace mood."

Although Washington has not openly mentioned whether it will reaffirm the Singapore agreement, Hong said it is already acknowledging it as the basis of its new North Korea policy, citing U.S. Department of State principal deputy spokeswoman Jalina Porter's remark that the policy goal "remains clear that it is complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula."

"The term, which also appears in the Singapore declaration, seems to be giving the hint at the U.S. intention to continue with the 2018 agreement," Hong said. "Since the U.S. is underscoring a practical and calibrated approach, the content of the Biden administration's North Korea policy will be based on the Singapore declaration."

President Moon Jae-in and U.S. President Joe Biden / Yonhap
President Moon Jae-in and U.S. President Joe Biden / Yonhap

Prof. Yang Moo-jin of the University of North Korean Studies said the summit will focus on the Singapore agreement in order to pursue low-level action subsequent to each pillar of the agreement, which will entice Pyongyang to engage in dialogue.

"The Singapore agreement calls for the establishment of new U.S.-North Korea relations and a lasting and stable peace regime on the Korean Peninsula. The action plan for the first pillar includes a liaison office between Washington and Pyongyang, and that for the second pillar is an end-of-war declaration," Yang said. "During the 2019 U.S.-North Korea summit in Hanoi, the two sides failed to reach a deal after they had a confrontation over a further measure in addition to the destruction of the Yongbyon nuclear facility. Since the U.S. is now seeking a calibrated approach, easier steps will come first."

The Korean War ended in an armistice signed in 1953 by the U.S.-led United Nations Command, China and North Korea, leaving the two Koreas technically still at war. Unlike a peace treaty, which requires a parliament- or assembly-level approval, an end-of-war declaration would be a non-binding political statement, thus an easier step for both Washington and the North, according to experts.

Due to this, President Moon has been championing the idea, saying it will open the door for peace on the Korean Peninsula.

"Given an end-of-war declaration is a political statement and serves as a gateway to a peace treaty, which requires complex preconditions, the U.S. can also consider this as a feasible option," Yang said.

During a forum last month, Minister of Foreign Affairs Chung Eui-yong said he "understands that the U.S. is also seriously reviewing an end-of-war declaration."


Nam Hyun-woo namhw@koreatimes.co.kr


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