|U.S. President Donald Trump, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, White House National Security Adviser John Bolton and acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney attend the extended bilateral meeting in the Metropole hotel with North Korea's leader Kim Jong-un and his delegation during the second North Korea-U.S. summit in Hanoi, Vietnam Feb. 28, 2019. Reuters-Yonhap|
By Kim Yoo-chul
Though not totally unexpected, the failure of the Hanoi summit was an unwelcome development for the United States-North Korea detente because the talks abruptly ended with lingering differences over sanctions relief and the two countries didn't commit to a third Trump-Kim Jong-un summit.
But in the aftermath of the Hanoi summit, it's important to assess how Trump and Kim Jong-un will proceed to avoid a total collapse of the denuclearization process.
Political analysts and experts in Seoul said the Hanoi summit wasn't a failure as the summit was a nice opportunity for North Korea and the United States to better grasp one another's core intention ― a step-by-step denuclearization approach for North Korea and no sanctions easing until there is complete, final and fully-verified denuclearization for the United States.
Because President Moon Jae-in isn't a distant bystander in the denuclearization talks, the South Korean leader has been advised to play the role of "facilitator" not "mediator" to advance the nuclear disarmament talks between Washington and Pyongyang, they said.
"On his way back to Washington D.C., Trump asked Moon to persuade Kim Jong-un. Given this complication, President Moon should not assume the role of a mediator. Rather, South Korea should act as a facilitator because the country has stakes in the denuclearization talks," Moon Chung-in, a senior presidential adviser on unification and diplomacy matters to the President Moon, said in a recent forum.
A mediator usually doesn't have deep relations with or complex interests in either party; however, a facilitator usually plays an active role in convincing interested parties to move forward relevant processes.
The presidential aide Moon said being a facilitator is a fine line, and the first step as a bona fide facilitator will be another inter-Korean summit. "But this time, if another inter-Korean summit happens, it should be done behind closed doors to avoid unnecessary fuss."
Last week, Seoul's Foreign Ministry said it plans to focus diplomatic efforts on facilitating an early resumption of nuclear talks between the United States and North Korea. The Unification Ministry separately reported to Cheong Wa Dae that it plans to develop "sustainable inter-Korean relations" through a top-down approach driven by further inter-Korean summits.
But the question is what can President Moon do and what is the prerequisite for him to proceed with the advised task?
The presidential aide Moon and Koh Yu-hwan, a professor of North Korean studies at Dongguk University in Seoul, said approval from the United States is needed to move forward with an early resumption of inter-Korean economic projects within the broad range of the sanctions frame.
The key rationale is for North Korea, getting sanctions relief and an operation of inter-Korean projects still remain the top priority as possible declaration of an end to the Korean War and establishment of liaison offices in Pyongyang and Washington don't fit with the North Korean leader Kim's "New Strategic Line" of economic development, they said.
"Once South Korea receives the green light from the United States to advance now-halted inter-Korean economic projects, then this would be a good reciprocal step for the North, which would also be a plus for Washington and Pyongyang to narrow their stark differences over the definition of 'denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula' in addition to the specifics of sanctions relief, eventually," said the professor Koh.
The presidential aide Moon stressed both Trump and Kim didn't regard the no agreement of the Hanoi summit as a "dead end." The failure is perceived as a "no deal," leaving possibilities for a third North Korea-United States summit.
As the North's denuclearization matters to other stakeholders other than the two Koreas and the United States, experts also said President Moon was asked to win backing from China, Japan and Russia to achieve progress on some frozen inter-Korean projects, which Seoul regards as a booster for the improvement of the nuclear disarmament talks.
China was the only stakeholder in the talks the President Moon previously mentioned when cautioning about the need to get in fast if North Korean sanctions are eased.
|A man stops to talk on his mobile phone as he rides his electric bicycle in Pyongyang, North Korea, Wednesday, March 13, 2019. AP-Yonhap|
"It's more about a power game. The main stakeholders in the talks have vastly different views over preferred rapprochement about the North Korean issue," Koh said. Moon named his top policy adviser Jang Ha-sung and seasoned diplomat Nam Gwan-pyo as South Korean ambassador to China and Japan, respectively.
Not an easy task
Communicating clearly is always difficult during these exchanges and that means Moon "has to have a say" on rampant skepticism over the North's genuine intention toward scrapping its nuclear program.
As the United States is taking a tough stance toward the issue following Hanoi, Moon is facing lots of hurdles to make Seoul's plans to provide its types of concessions actually happen as doing so would create tension between Seoul and Washington under current circumstances.
U.N. experts said they will be investigating possible violations of United Nations sanctions on the North in about 20 countries, from speculated clandestine nuclear procurement in China to arms brokering in Syria and military cooperation with Iran, Libya and Sudan, the expert panel's 66-page report to the Security Council showed.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo voiced U.S. support as the United States has built out a fully global coalition regarding the North Korean nuclear issue.
"There's still work to do. North Koreans have not fulfilled the commitment that Chairman Kim made yet. These are UN sanctions. Enforcement of those sanctions matters an awful lot. We are urging every country to enforce them as rigidly as they can, and frankly, we've done pretty well. There are gaps. When we find gaps, we work to close them," Pompeo said in a recent media interview.
Ken Gause, director of the International Affairs Group at the Center for Naval Analyses, expects North Korea will turn to South Korea for concessions such as the operation of the Gaeseong Industrial Complex and Mount Geumgang tourism, which Seoul plans to discuss with Washington prior to beginning preparatory work due to potential sanctions violations.
"If the South Koreans were able to get some sanctions relief and provide North Korea with some resources, maybe reopening the Gaeseong complex or Mount Geumgang, that could actually lay the path for better negotiations with the United States down the line if we just take a hard line against North Korea, and they go into a shell," said Gause.