[Dan Damon] The US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo heads to New York today, he’s briefing members of the UN Security Council and the South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha on the ongoing talks with North Korea.
This is on the day that it emerged North Korea’s GDP, its gross domestic product, shrank last year by three and a half percent from the previous year, the biggest decline since the famine in the 1990s.
Before setting off to New York, Kang Kyung-wha came into our studio to speak to us here on World Update, after the President of South Korea’s optimistic speech in Singapore recently, I asked her what practical steps are on the way now to improve relations between the two Koreas.
[Minister Kang] The military communication hotline has been reconnected, preparations are on the way for a family reunion visit in late August, and also work to open a joint liaison office. This is just a start, the discussions continue, there are various kinds of sports exchanges so that’s happened in the South-North track. On the US-North Korea track following Singapore, very much focused on denuclearization. The negotiations have started with Mr. Pompeo’s visit to Pyongyang early this month. Obviously, this will require a great deal of work, time, focus, and patience, but we want to make sure that the two tracks, the South-North track, and the US-North Korea track, work in complementarity and move together.
[Dan Damon] How well is the US-North Korea track really going? Because the North Koreans didn’t turn out to talks about the repatriation of the remains of war victims.
[Minister Kang] Actually they did, after a few days of delay, and at a higher level, not at a military working level, but at a general officers level. And there is expectation that a return of what remains that they have already collected will happen very soon, and that work will proceed for further excavation work to do as much as the US and North Korea can do. There is about over five thousand unaccounted – for POWs and MIAs from the Korean War. So actually, that work is moving forward.
[Dan Damon] Isn’t it one of the problems, though, that there hasn’t been progress on ending the war in effect to signing any kind of teaty?
[Minister Kang] Yes, in fact, as you say, the armistice signed in 1953 still keeps the two sides technically at war. And yes, we need to replace the armistice with a full peace treaty to ensure the legal framework for peaceful coexistence between the two sides, which is why in the Panmunjeom declaration South and North Korea have committed to work for such a lasting peace treaty and that was reconfirmed in the Sentosa statement between the United States and North Korea.
[Dan Damon] When, then?
[Minister Kang] We wanted to begin with a declaration to the end of the war of the Korean war, we very much hope that we can do this declaration before the end of the year, and that’s just start of process of negotiating a peace treaty. But the time frame very much depends on other partners around the table, certainly the US and North Korea and who would be around the table for this, we’re flexible, it could be three parties, or it could be four parties including China, but very much depends on further discussions with these various partners.
[Dan Damon] Everyone hopes for peace on the Korean Peninsula, but, the denuclearization issue remains. President Trump just last week talked about not taking the turkey out of the oven too soon, but the promise that he seemed to be making after Singapore, the turkey was already out of the oven.
[Minister Kang] I think this will require time, it’s a complicated issue, the North Korean program on both nuclear weapons and missiles is a very advanced one, so even with the best of intentions, just the technical aspect of this is going to take time. I think what the President had said immediately coming out of Singapore indicated his optimism about this having reaffirmed with the Chairman himself his clear commitment toward denuclearization. So, I think that sense of having accomplished that was what led the President to say that his more recent comment is a reflection of the reality of this work going forward.
[Dan Damon] You know that there are many skeptics, especially amongst the conservatives in your own country, that North Korea is doing what it’s done 25 years ago, it’s making promises, getting small advantages for itself, sanctions in this case being lifted, more business with your own country, but in the end, they will not give up the nuclear weapons.
[Minister Kang] What is different this time around is that the committment has been made clearly by the top leader himself very publicly in front of the whole international community in Singapore. What is also different this time is the heavy security council sanctions, and we have eleven of them, one adopted after every provocation that they’ve made. And it’s a very very heavy sanctions regime that has significantly reduced their ability to trade, to have economic ties with the outside world. North Korea is committed by the Chairman’s own words to charting a different course for the country towards economic development and that cannot happen under the sanctions regime. So I think that this time around there is much at stake for North Korea for this to succeed as well, and the political will clearly demonstrated by the Chairman himself and with President Trump and my own President is something that will give this a greater push in terms of the implementation.