The Moon Jae-in government will adhere to a “two-track approach” and seek to simultaneously pursue dialogue and sanctions as its policy towards North Korea, the South’s chief nuclear envoy Lee Do-hoon told an audience at the Jeju Forum on Thursday.
Lee, whose full title is Special Representative for Korean Penisula Peace and Security Affairs, said the “current government’s strategy” was based on the lessons learned from past negotiations and the special circumstances that the peninsula faces.
“First, the two-track approach of dialogue and pressure is a classic, yet most effective approach,” Lee — who serves as a direct counterpart to U.S. Special Representative on North Korea Stephen Biegun — said in his keynote speech, reiterating Seoul’s position that it is faithfully enforcing UN Security Council (UNSC) resolutions.
“Sanctions will remain in place until we are assured that complete denuclearization has been achieved,” he continued.
Lee did, however, warn that negotiators should not “make the mistake of misunderstanding sanctions as a solution,” emphasizing they are “merely a tool.”
“In the end, no negotiations means no progress,” he said. “You may walk the path of sanctions, but without going through the door of dialogue, you cannot enter the room of resolving the nuclear issue.”
Lee said Seoul will “make the most of the top-down approach,” stressing that there would be limitations to nuclear negotiations conducted through a bottom-up diplomatic process.
“We believe this top-down approach is the most suitable in the current situation where the leaders have strong political determination,” he said, while accepting that the no-deal second DPRK-U.S. summit had shown the limits of this style of diplomacy.
The top-down approach, he said, “has been and will continue to be supplemented by efforts at the working level.”
During the forum, Lee also expressed regret that the dialogue process “has not gained any attraction” since the Hanoi summit in spite of Seoul’s efforts to “keep the momentum alive,” urging both the U.S. and the North to take action.
“We should realize time is on no one’s side. Each party faces its own domestic political dynamics and a changing international environment,” he said. “This means the window of opportunity will not remain open indefinitely.”
“In order to make substantive progress in denuclearization negotiations in the current phase of dialogue, all parties need to make amicable gestures that can chip away this trust deficit accumulated over the years.”
Making mention of the North’s commitment to recover and repatriate POW/MIA remains in the joint DPRK-U.S. statement of June 12 last year, Lee also stressed the importance of the humanitarian issue in confidence building.
In that context, he said, the South Korean government “pursues humanitarian assistance to the North today.”
Seoul announced earlier this month that it would seek to send $8 million worth of funds to Pyongyang via the World Food Program (WFP) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), as part of efforts to ease a months-long impasse in talks between the two sides.
In addition to this, Lee said Seoul “must work to ensure that the dialogue reaps feasible results, no matter how small, at the earliest possible stage.”
Through this process, the chief nuclear envoy said participating countries would learn that choosing the path of diplomacy for denuclearization was not a mistake.
Meanwhile, Lee is set to meet with U.S. Special Representative Biegun this week during a visit to Singapore on Friday and Saturday, where he will attend the annual Shangri-La Dialogue.
The South Korean foreign ministry said the two will discuss ways to work together to “achieve progress toward complete denuclearization and the establishment of permanent peace on the Korean peninsula.”
Edited by Oliver Hotham
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