In a dramatic attempt to restart the Korea peace process, South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un will meet for the third time in Pyongyang September 18–20.
The summit, announced as North Korea was preparing for massive celebrations Sunday marking its founding in 1948, couldn’t come at a better time. Over the summer, the negotiations Moon and Kim initiated last spring with the Trump administration to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula reached an impasse that is proving difficult to overcome.
The dividing line is Washington’s rejection of a demand from North Korea to bring a formal end to the Korean War, and US insistence that international economic sanctions on the North remain in place until it shows concrete signs of getting rid of its nuclear arsenal.
“We’re not going to give anything until North Korea does what it says” about denuclearizing, Andrea Thompson, under secretary of state for arms control and international security, told reporters on Friday.
But the dispute is not just between the United States and North Korea. A chasm has also opened up between Washington and Seoul that threatens to undercut the bilateral military alliance created in 1953 to fend off another Korean War.
At issue is whether South Korea has the sovereign right to follow through on its plans—codified in the April 27 Panmunjom Declaration signed by Moon and Kim—to make peace within the borders of its own country. This came to a head in August, when the Trump administration, citing US and UN sanctions, expressed opposition to North and South Korean plans to open a liaison office in the Gaesong Industrial Complex just north of the DMZ.
Last week, the Pentagon, acting through the UN Command in Korea that it controls, blocked plans by both Koreas to inspect rail lines in the North that are crucial to their plans for closer economic ties. Gen. Vincent Brooks, the US Commander in Korea, has also expressed reservations over South Korean plans to remove some guard posts from the border with the North as a way to reduce military tensions.