North Korea offers truce, nuclear risks recede

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Seoul/New Delhi: In a dramatic development, North Korea has said it is willing to hold talks with the US on denuclearization if the safety of Kim Jong-un’s regime is guaranteed, a senior South Korean diplomat said on his return from the North on Tuesday.

North Korea will also suspend nuclear tests while the dialogue with the US is underway, Chung Eui-yong, head of the South Korean delegation which visited North Korea for talks, told reporters.

Further, North Korea’s Kim Jong-un will meet South Korean President Moon Jae-in for a summit along their shared border at the end of April, Chung added. The last inter-Korean summit was in 2007, when then South Korean president Roh Moo-hyun met Kim’s father, Kim Jong-il.

US President Donald Trump signalled that he’s open to talks with North Korea in a possible breakthrough after months of bellicose threats from both leaders.

“Possible progress being made in talks with North Korea. For the first time in many years, a serious effort is being made by all parties concerned,” Trump said Tuesday in a tweet. “The World is watching and waiting! May be false hope, but the U.S. is ready to go hard in either direction!”

Taken together, the developments are expected to have a huge impact on regional security with countries such as South Korea and Japan heaving a sigh of relief. A fillip to regional peace is expected to have a positive impact on trade and commerce in a region that houses many of Asia’s powerhouse economies—China, Japan and South Korea, say analysts.

North Korea’s return to the talks table, for the first time since 2008-09 when the six-party (Russia, China, Japan, South Korea, the US and North Korea) talks collapsed, could result in a lessening of China’s leverage as a peace broker, analysts add. These analysts have argued that it is Trump’s relentless pressure on the Kim regime that has resulted in his extending the olive branch.

Others, however, give credit to South Korea’s president, given that Moon had campaigned on a platform for peace with North Korea in the run-up to the May 2017 elections.

A statement from Moon’s office said: “North Korea has clearly expressed its intention for denuclearization on the Korean peninsula, and if there is no military threat, and North Korea’s regime security is promised, they have clarified that there is no reason to hold nuclear weapons.”

There were no immediate reactions from the White House, National Security Council and state department, Bloomberg reported.

Trump had in the past said that North Korea must be willing to denuclearize before talks can begin. He had also threatened military action to stop Kim from acquiring the capability to strike the US with a nuclear weapon. In recent weeks, Washington had been talking to regional partners, including Japan, South Korea, Australia and Singapore, about coordinating a stepped-up crackdown that would go further than ever before in an attempt to squeeze Kim’s use of seagoing trade to feed its nuclear missile programme, a Reuters report said.

While suspect ships have been intercepted before, the emerging strategy would expand the scope of such operations but stop short of imposing a naval blockade on North Korea.

Senior US officials were in New Delhi last month to brief Indian officials on the naval interceptions, a person familiar with the development said, adding that the aim of the exchange was also to see whether India could join these efforts.

In New Delhi, the foreign ministry did not officially comment on the developments on the Korean peninsula. Srikanth Kondapalli, a professor of East Asian Studies at the New Delhi-based Jawaharlal Nehru University, pointed out that North Korea had a history of using negotiations to buy time for its weapons programme. “So I don’t think they will denuclearize. Denuclearization means giving up nuclear weapons with international verifications.

“They (North Koreans) see nuclear weapons as a means of ensuring regime stability as well as regime legitimization as they see their (Communist) way of life as superior to South Korea’s,” he said, doubting whether the offer was a “sincere one”.

Biswajit Dhar, a professor of economics at Jawaharlal Nehru University, said that an eventual removal of sanctions on North Korea would change the economic dynamics of the region. “Should the North Korean economy get integrated into the region’s economy, the impact of this will be substantial. Japan and South Korea could invest in North Korea and eventually, the three countries together could emerge as a counterweight to China,” Dhar said.

Vishnu Prakash, a former Indian ambassador to South Korea, said Kim’s offer of talks was a “masterstroke” and a “bold tactical manoeuvre, given that the noose of sanctions had tightened. I see this as a move to buy time… I will not be celebrating just yet,” he said.livemint