South Korea and North Korea agreed in recent talks to hold a bilateral summit meeting in late April. If realized, it will be the first summit talks between the two Koreas in 11 years.
Dialogue between the two countries is necessary to ease tensions on the Korean Peninsula. However, the ultimate goal of the talks is to eventually resolve the issue of North Korea's nuclear weapons development program.
According to South Korean officials, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has expressed his readiness to hold consultations with the United States on denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. Kim was quoted as telling South Korean officials that there is no need for North Korea to possess nuclear arms if the survival of its regime is guaranteed and that Pyongyang will refrain from conducting tests on nuclear weapons or launching missiles while bilateral dialogue is ongoing.
Kim, the chairman of the Workers' Party of Korea, also reportedly expressed his understanding toward U.S.-South Korea joint military drills, which he had previously strongly opposed.
These drastic concessions are almost unbelievable considering the fact that Kim had heretofore repeated provocative remarks. It is difficult to take his recent comments at face value in light of his earlier words and deeds.
Kim's about-face has raised suspicions that Pyongyang is taking advantage of the South Korean government of President Moon Jae-in, who is enthusiastic about improving relations between the two Koreas, to attain a favorable position in its talks with Washington. It is highly likely that this is part of a scenario that Kim had envisioned since he expressed enthusiasm about holding dialogue with Seoul on the occasion of the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics.
North Korea has repeatedly broken the promises it made in previous talks on its nuclear and missile programs.
In a statement issued at the six-party talks on North Korea's nuclear programs in 2005, Pyongyang pledged to abandon all its nuclear weapons and its existing nuclear development plans. It has claimed for many years that it has no intention of possessing nuclear weapons if the regime's survival is guaranteed. North Korea has repeatedly "frozen" its launch of missiles but each time it ended up resuming them.
Concrete action is necessary to ascertain whether Pyongyang truly intends to cooperate in denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula. The international community must keep putting pressure on North Korea until the country begins moving toward that end.
Attention is now focused on how the U.S. administration of President Donald Trump will react to Kim's suggestion that Pyongyang is prepared to hold talks with Washington on eliminating nuclear arms from the Korean Peninsula.
The Trump government has tried to force North Korea to sit at the denuclearization negotiation table by placing maximum pressure on the country. If Kim's words are to be taken at face value, once could say that conditions for holding U.S.-North Korea talks have been met. But the issue is not so simple.
The Moon administration should cautiously prepare for the summit meeting with Kim, keeping in mind the international community's concerns. Cooperation between Japan and the United States is crucial in that process. Unless the talks produce results that will eventually lead to ridding the Korean Peninsula of nuclear arms, the meeting will only lead to more problems in the future.