North and South Korea held a groundbreaking railroad construction ceremony on Dec. 26 at Panmunjom Station at Kaesong. The U.S. and UN sanctions against North Korea were a major roadblock to the ceremony, but the event finally occurred after long negotiations between Stephen Biegun, the United States special representative for North Korea, and the government. Because of this event, there are steady hopes that the denuclearization and peace negotiations between the U.S. and North Korea that have been falling apart since U.S. Secretary State Mike Pompeo’s fourth visit in October will be steadier.
Similarly, the government plans to send 20,000 doses of Tamiflu, a flu drug, to North Korea by the end of this year thanks to the Korean-U.S. alliance. The United States is also being proactive in reviewing the bans on American visits to North Korea, and Vice President Mike Pence is cancelling his schedule of speeches that were to have condemned the human rights situation in North Korea. North Korea should not miss this opportunity to cooperate with the United States.
In June, Kim Jong Un and President Donald Trump met in Singapore to discuss the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, but six months later, denuclearization hasn’t moved a single step forward. It’s because North Korea has refused to follow up with its declaration on nuclear weapons and avoided discussions with U.S. officials. North Korea appears to want the U.S. to lift sanctions and wants to obtain economic aid by talking directly with Trump rather than engaging in difficult negotiations with U.S. representatives.
However, Trump’s actions alone cannot achieve denuclearization and resolve the sanctions that entangle North Korea. Right now, the United States has only permitted this specific railroad construction ceremony to take place despite sanctions, but it has not approved some $8 million in humanitarian aid for North Korea under consideration since last year. In addition to this, coming into the new year, President Trump’s power will not be as strong as before. After the new Congress begins its session in January, it’s expected that the Democratic controlled House of Representatives will attempt to attack Trump’s policy toward North Korea. Pyongyang (North Korea) should not ignore Cho Myoung-Gyon, the minister of unification, who stated, “If denuclearization does not start until February or March next year, inter-Korean relations will become much harder than before.”
Everything is now up to Kim. I hope he will respond to South Korea’s efforts and the
concessions the U.S. made last year, and will be able to take advantage of this last chance being afforded to North Korea. I look forward to an important decision by Kim to advance denuclearization in January 2019.