|President Moon Jae-in gives his New Year's address at Cheong Wa Dae, Thursday. Yonhap|
By Lee Min-hyung
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is well aware that the United States Forces Korea (USFK) will continue to be stationed in the South despite his ongoing efforts for the regime's denuclearization, South Korean President Moon Jae-in said in a televised New Year's press conference, Thursday.
"Kim Jong-un clearly understands the North's denuclearization has nothing to do with the presence of the USFK in the South, viewing its existence as part of the security alliance between Seoul and Washington," Moon said.
The remark came amid lingering concerns that North Korea may demand the withdrawal of the USFK in the future, as it will be difficult for the South to justify U.S. troops' continuing presence here after the possible declaration of the end to the 1950-53 Korean War.
President Moon, however, dispelled such worries, underlining Kim made it clear not to link the USFK issue with the ongoing inter-Korean and Washington-Pyongyang dialogues.
"Strategic weapons, deployed in Japan and Guam by the USFK and the U.S. armed forces, are not necessarily aimed at North Korea, but their presence is for overall peace and stability across Northeast Asia," Moon said.
For this reason, the North is unlikely to demand the US withdraw the weapons, as part of a "corresponding step" for the latter to take in exchange for the regime's efforts for denuclearization, President Moon said.
U.S. President Donald Trump and Kim plan to hold their second summit in the near future to seek breakthrough in their stalled denuclearization talks. Neither side has made meaningful progress on the dialogue since their first meeting in June.
All eyes are on whether Trump and Kim will be able to sign a big deal at the second summit. To make smooth progress in their dialogue, President Moon has served as a mediator between the two sides. He has particularly held three summits with Kim last year to fine-tune differences between Washington and Pyongyang.
Against the backdrop, President Moon called on the international community to trust Kim Jong-un's willingness for denuclearization of the peninsula.
"I am aware that American society has had a deep distrust of and hostility towards North Korea for a long period of time, and as far as I know, many people in the U.S. think that what Kim Jong-un means by denuclearization is different from their view on the complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization."
But Kim clarified this is not true, and he has reaffirmed his strong willingness to achieve complete denuclearization recognized by the international community, according to Moon.
"Kim has made the pledge clear to me, Trump, Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin," Moon said.
2nd NK-US summit
President Moon said Kim's recent trip to China is a clear sign to show that the second Washington-Pyongyang summit is around the corner.
"I think Washington and Pyongyang already know what they need to negotiate during the second summit," Moon said. "North Korea should take clear steps for denuclearization for a lifting of sanctions from the international society."
The U.S. is also aware of the need for measures to continue encouraging the North to realize denuclearization, according to Moon.
"But the long-lasting distrust puts the bilateral talks on hold. At the second summit, both leaders will discuss details on this."
Trump and Kim failed to sign specific agreements during their first meeting in Singapore, so expectations are that they will reach a more detailed agreement on such agendas during the second summit.
President Moon said a possible easing of heavy sanctions on the North will be in line with the speed of its denuclearization. Therefore, the U.S. needs to come up with what kind of reciprocal steps it will take to continue spurring the North's denuclearization, according to Moon.
Moon also predicted that Kim Jong-un will likely visit Seoul sometime after the second Washington-Pyongyang summit. Kim planned to visit the South in return for Moon's trip to Pyongyang for a three-day-long inter-Korean summit in September.
Aside from the affairs on North Korea, President Moon urged Japan to stop politicizing their bilateral conflict on South Korean workers forced to work at Japanese firms during Japan's 1910-45 colonial rule on the peninsula.
In October, the South's Supreme Court ordered Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal Corp. to pay 100 million won ($88,000) each to four South Korean plaintiffs due to their wartime forced labor, which drew strong backlash from the Japanese government.
"I wish the Japanese government took a more humble attitude on such conflicts related to the history between the two countries. The South Korean government has said that both countries should resolve such issues in a way not to undermine the bilateral future-oriented relations."