By Ramesh Jaura
The United Nations and the European Union as well as independent arms control experts have welcomed the results of latest talks between South and North Korea, and called for seizing the opportunities opening up for peace in the region and for reducing international tensions.
The significance of emerging prospects is underlined by the fact that though the Korean War ended in 1953, in the absence of a peace treaty the two Koreas are technically still at war. As The New York Times notes, in the United States where coverage of the armed conflict was censored and its memory decades later is often overshadowed by World War II and the Vietnam War, the Korean War has been called “the Forgotten War”.
“But the three-year conflict in Korea, which pitted communist and capitalist forces against each other, set the stage for decades of tension among North Korea, South Korea and the United States,” adds The New York Times. “It also helped set the tone for Soviet-American rivalry during the Cold War, profoundly shaping the world we live in today, historians said.”
In a statement in New York on March 6, the Spokesman for UN Secretary-General António Guterres said he was “encouraged” by the advances made in talks, “particularly the agreement to hold a summit meeting soon, to further reduce military tensions and to discuss denuclearization in future talks with all relevant parties.”
The summit, slated for April 2018, will be the third between the leaders of the two Koreas. The previous two summits were held in 2000 and 2007, respectively, under South Korean presidents Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun.
The Spokesman said the UN Secretary-General had stressed “the need to protect the momentum and seize the opportunities available to find a peaceful path forward.”
The statement added: “The latest developments are further steps forward in laying the foundation for the resumption of sincere dialogue, leading to sustainable peace and denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula. The Secretary-General reiterates the commitment of the United Nations to further assist in this process with the Governments concerned.”
In Brussels, Federica Mogherini, High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy of the European Union (EU), which has tough sanctions in force against North Korea, said the 28-nation bloc was ready to do what it could to support the peace moves on the Peninsula.
“We will be pleased to host the foreign minister of South Korea, foreign minister Kang with whom I was in contact today, to the foreign affairs council on March 19,” Mogherini said on March 6.
“With her we will have updates on the state of play but also work on the ways in which the European Union can support these first encouraging steps we’re seeing on the Korean peninsula.”
Responding to March 6 announcement from South Korea that North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, said his country is willing to begin negotiations with the United States on abandoning its nuclear weapons and that it would suspend all nuclear and missile tests while it is engaged in such talks, Daryl G. Kimball, the executive director of the U.S.-based Arms Control Association, hailed the “South-North Korea breakthrough”.
In Washington, Kimball described “as positive developments” the preparations for an inter-Korean summit, the establishment of a hotline between South Korean and North Korean leaders, North Korea’s apparent willingness to consider denuclearization if its security is guaranteed, and willingness to suspend testing if there are talks with the United States.
These are all developments that strengthen the prospects for peace and security in the region, Kimball added.
“The table is set for a meaningful, sustained dialogue between Washington and Pyongyang. It is important that the United States government seize upon – and that Congress support – this important diplomatic opening that has been forged by our close South Korean allies and agree to engage in talks with North Korea at a very senior level without preconditions,” said Kimball.
It is in the U.S. national security interest to reciprocate with actions and statements that reduce tensions, including being prepared to modify planned U.S.-Republic of Korea military exercises, he declared.
According to the Arms Control Association, the near-term goal of U.S. policy should be to maintain a long-term freeze on North Korean nuclear and missile testing and to reduce tensions on the peninsula and begin sustained negotiations on issues of mutual concern, including steps toward the longer-term goals of denuclearization of the Korean peninsula and the peace regime.
“Diplomacy will not guarantee success, but it offers the best chance for curbing the North Korean nuclear threat,” noted Kimball.
Earlier, in a March 5 letter to all House and Senate offices, a group of former government officials and members of Congress, nongovernmental organization leaders, and non-proliferation experts called on members of Congress to “publicly express their support for a more effective U.S. diplomatic strategy with North Korea.”
“Missing, so far, from the U.S. strategy has been an effective and consistent strategy for diplomatic engagement with North Korea to halt and reverse its dangerous nuclear and missile pursuits,” the letter stated. “Unless there is a breakthrough in the coming weeks, the action-reaction cycle between President Trump and Kim Jong Un will likely resume soon after the conclusion of the PyeongChang Olympic Games.”
The letter also calls on members of Congress to publicly support more robust efforts by President Trump to engage in negotiations with North Korea in order to reduce tensions and achieve a diplomatic agreement to halt and eventually reverse North Korea’s nuclear and missile program.
The letter is endorsed by several former ambassadors, former members of Congress, including Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.), leading non-proliferation and security experts, and civil society leaders.
The letter highlights two bills, H.R. 4837/S. 2016, which clarify that only Congress can authorize U.S. military action in North Korea and calls for the administration to “avoid actions that could contribute to a breakdown in talks, and continue to search for confidence-building measures that are conducive to dialogue” and S.2047, which would withhold funding from military action in North Korea “absent an imminent threat to the United States without express congressional authorization.”