Spotlight: Inter-Korean talks pave way for further tension de-escalation: U.S. experts

WASHINGTON, Jan. 8 (Xinhua) -- U.S. experts on Monday hailed the current talks between the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) and South Korea, saying it helps garner good faith that would lead to further de-escalation of tensions on the Korean Peninsula.

Seoul's Unification Ministry said Monday that the two Koreas would discuss issues of mutual concern, including the DPRK's participation in the Pyeongchang Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games, as well as military and humanitarian issues which South Korea raised last year.

The dialogue mood between the two sides came as top DPRK leader Kim Jong Unsaid in his New Year's address that his country was willing to participate in the South Korea-hosted Winter Olympics and talk with Seoul about it.

In response, Seoul proposed holding high-level intergovernmental talks. The DPRK accepted it without making any change of the dialogue venue and time suggested by South Korea.

The two sides have also restored the inter-Korean hotline of direct dialogue at the truce village of Panmunjom for discussions about the Olympics.

DESPERATE NEED FOR PROGRESS ON PENINSULA ISSUE

Besides the olive branch offered by Pyongyang, the talks were made possible thanks to South Korean President Moon Jae-in, said Bruce Klingner, senior research fellow for Northeast Asia at conservative thinktank the Heritage Foundation's Asian Studies Center.

Moon has been eager not only to minimize the potential for a DPRK provocation during the Olympics, but also to reduce tension on the Korean Peninsula, Klingner said.

"Every year, North Korea (the DPRK) issues a New Year's Day speech that includes an olive branch to South Korea," he said, "The main difference this year was that the South Korean administration was more eager to engage with the North with fewer preconditions."

Troy Stangarone, senior director at the Korea Economic Institute, a Washington-based non-profit policy research institution, also agreed that some credit for the talks should go to Moon, whose suggestion to postpone the joint U.S.-South Korean military exercises "created the space needed for North Korea to consider taking part."

Coming on the heels of the re-opening of the communication channel between the two Koreas on Jan. 3, Washington and Seoul agreed last week not to conduct any joint military drill during the upcoming Pyeongchang Winter Olympics.

However, in the eyes of Douglas Paal, vice president for studies at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, the only agreed topic of the meeting is the Olympics arrangements for participation by the DPRK.

"If they open to broader topics, each will have a great deal to say and little prospect for agreement," he said, adding although the Olympics have played a small role in inter-Korean politics, "none has changed the game being played politically, economically and strategically between the rivals."

NOT TOO MUCH PRESSURE

Too much pressure should not be placed on the talks, experts warned.

"It's unrealistic to expect them (Pyongyang and Seoul) to achieve too much given the events of the last few years. If they can help to reduce tensions and spur on a successful Olympics, they will have been successful," Stangarone said.

U.S. experts also agreed that the prospect of direct talks between U.S. President Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un seems slim in near future.

"President Trump has alternated between expressing a willingness to talk with Kim Jong Un to suggesting that talks are a waste of time," Stangarone said, adding that "a presidential conversation with Kim Jong Un is not something to be undertaken lightly."

Paal also said the Trump-Kim meeting is a "very remote thing," warning the prospects are much greater that tensions will increase after the games end, as Washington and Seoul would restart their annual military drills.

Klingner further pointed out "Trump would face fierce criticism if he agreed to meet with Kim Jong Un without first establishing North Korea's agreement to denuclearization and acquiescence to sufficient verification measures."

U.S. ENGAGEMENT URGED FOR PEACE PROSPECT

In an editorial published on the website of foreign policy magazine Foreign Affairs earlier this week, U.S. famed expert on the DPRK affairs John Delury urged Washington to further commit itself to the peace-making process and final denuclearization on the Peninsula.

"The Korean security situation last year went off the rails, and if it starts to careen downslope again this year, the risks of a blow up will only increase," said Delury.

As for fears that Kim is merely seeking an opening whereby he could split the U.S.-South Korean alliance, Delury said the worry "is exaggerated, as it underestimates the strength of Washington and Seoul's relationship" and "overlooks the complexity of inter-Korean relations, which have their own rhythms, their own history, and their own destiny."

"Going forward, it is critical that U.S. policymakers and strategists recognize that the two Koreas' future is theirs to write," he added.

Delury argued that instead of issuing condescending warnings to Seoul, Washington would do well to support Moon's initiative, stay in close coordination with him, and even hope to gain insights from direct engagement with the DPRK counterparts.

Also, actual negotiations on denuclearization, arms control and peace mechanisms will require direct U.S. participation. "The sooner the Trump administration follows Moon's lead in opening a direct channel to Pyongyang, the better," he said.

Delury suggested that Washington shall better make the upcoming summit in Vancouver concerning the Peninsula into a platform "to coordinate a new phase of maximizing engagement, not just pressure."

Canada and the United Stateswill co-host a Foreign Ministers' Meeting on Security and Stability on Korean Peninsula in Vancouver, Canada on Jan. 16, with most of the countries which joined in the 1950-1953 Korean War being invited.

"Peacemaking efforts between the two Koreas ... could be an important catalyst and generate positive side-effects, paving a way for the United States and North Korea to resume their own dialogue, and begin taking mutual steps to improve common security," he said.

[ Editor: meng ]
 

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