Dialogue as Final Resolution to North Korea Problem: US-South Korea Coordination Is Key

The Trump administration’s four-point policy plan on North Korea was confirmed. A U.S. State Department official told a group of South Korean politicians who were visiting Washington D.C., including Youn Kwan-suk of the Democratic Party, Jun Hee-kyung of the Liberty Korea Party and Kim Kwan-young of the People’s Party, on May 25 that President Donald Trump had signed a North Korea policy report.

Washington’s approach to Pyongyang includes four main strategies: not recognizing North Korea as a nuclear state, imposing every possible sanction and pressure, not seeking a regime change and a final resolution of the North Korea problem through dialogue. It is worth noting that the fourth strategy clearly states that the final resolution should be dialogue – all hope of future U.S.-North Korea or six-party talks is not lost, depending on the situation. This indication is significant in that the plan has parallels with the Moon administration’s approach to the North, which, unlike its predecessor, focuses on dialogue as a means of dealing with the recalcitrant regime.

However, it is early to assume South Korea and the U.S. will be on the same page. Although Washington underscored a diplomatic solution, whether it will disagree with Seoul on the methodology for coping with Pyongyang during the course of coordinating specific policies before the U.S.-South Korea presidential summit in June remains to be seen. If the North continues with its nuclear and missile provocations, the South and the U.S. may have disparate ideas for the level of sanctions and pressure to be imposed on the rogue regime. In addition, even if the two allies agree to resolve the North Korea problem by engaging the isolated regime in dialogue, they might diverge on the circumstances in which they should resume talks with Kim Jong Un’s regime or whether to compensate it for each phase of the road map to its denuclearization.

Despite the shift in both administrations’ policy toward it, Pyongyang has still not given up its drive for nuclear capability. The Rodong Sinmun, the North’s state-controlled newspaper, stated in an editorial on May 26, “We will develop more nuclear weapons and projectiles until the U.S. comes to its senses and makes the right choice,” suggesting that the North’s policy is unlikely to change. Given that, what matters most is preventing Kim Jong Un from misjudging the mood of the two nations through the U.S.-South Korea alliance. Both administrations should deliver a clear message to the regime in Pyongyang that its only path away from isolation will be giving up its nuclear program. Moreover, with almost a month left until the summit meeting, the Moon administration will have to focus on resolving the differences between the two allies’ North Korea policies so as to consolidate their alliance.

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