The visit of the South Korean president would be the first meeting between the two Korea's since 2007 and would mark the third inter-Korean summit ever to take place. Sputnik discussed this with Kim Hyun-wook, a professor at the Korea National Diplomatic Academy.
Sputnik: What is your take on this statement made by Jim Mattis? What consequences could this have on the recent thaw between the Koreas?
Kim Hyun-wook: This statement clearly shows that the US is also very eager to have a dialogue with North Korea, though the US stance is still very clear that it wants a denuclearization of North Korea. It will not ever allow North Korea to be a nuclear state, because if North Korea does another test of an ICBM (intercontinental ballistic missile) this would be a red line for the United States. It will make it a little bit difficult for the US to provide security to its allies and the alliances in Asia would be at risk, so I think the US wants to stop North Korea from developing ICBM's; and before that, it wants to have a dialogue with North Korea.
Sputnik: We've also been hearing from the Olympics the news that, after speaking to South Korea's president, Mike Pence, actually, said that there is a possibility of talks between the US and North Korea without conditions. Do you think we're any closer, do you think there's a good chance we'll see this kind of a meeting taking place, now that Mike Pence has made it clear, that this might be an option?
Kim Hyun-wook: I think that even though Mike Pence, when he came to Korea, he never greeted or shook hands with the North Korean representatives, there might have been some talks with the South Korean representatives and Mike Pence on how to deal with North Korea; what kind of the a diplomatic stance the US has to have under the current circumstances in which there emerges more and more momentum of a dialogue between North Korea, South Korea.
The US stance is still clear, it wants denuclearization, it wants to continue its sanctions against North Korea, but I think if ever the dialogue between the United States and North Korea happens with the purpose of denuclearization of North Korea, I don't think the United States will have any negative views on this. The South Korean government's position is also very clear that before the summit meeting between North Korea and South Korea can happen there be should some sort of momentum for denuclearizing North Korea, and in order for that there should be serious talks between North Korea and the United States. I think that this is very positive and profitable dialogue also for the United States, so I think the US is probably expecting something from the current moves. If there doesn't emerge any possibility of North Korea's denuclearization, I think the US will go back to a sanctions-based approach towards North Korea, I don't think there's anything the US would lose.
Sputnik: The US has been stressing that they're going to continue their policy of applying maximum pressure on Pyongyang, do you think that is really the best strategy, despite South Korean attempts to improve ties with North Korea?
Kim Hyun-wook: So far the maximum pressure has worked a lot, there has been a tug of war between the United States and North Korea. North Korea wanted to become a nuclear state and completed capabilities of ICBM, the US wants to prevent the North Korean efforts do develop these capabilities, so I think that under the current maximum pressure and sanctions, the North Korea economy has been very much exhausted, it wants to evade sanctions and it wants another chance and opportunity for a dialogue with the United States. It also wants some kind of an economic incentive to be given by South Korea, so I think it has grasped the current opportunity of the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics Games, during which North Korea can try and make lots of effort to obtain a lot of objectives. If the current Pyeongchang winter Olympic Games serve as a base to the diplomacy of North Korea, South Korea, the US - all these countries, the diplomatic effort is becoming possible and possibly will bring North Korea to the table for denuclearization (talks) and I think the US would welcome it.
Sputnik: Kim Jong-un's sister delivered a handwritten invitation to South Korean President Moon Jae-in to visit Pyongyang, do you see that meeting happening? When do you see it happening? How much can they really accomplish without the US?
Kim Hyun-wook: I don't think the summit meeting would be possible without the support of the United States. The current Moon Jae-in government's diplomacy is very much balanced, it wants to develop the two Koreas rapprochement and relationship, on the other hand, there's still the importance of the United States' and South Korea's alliance system. I think the Moon Jae-in government's diplomatic efforts have already begun, they would approach North Korea first and persuade North Korea to give up nuclear weapons and under what conditions, and North Korea would possibly talk about the US giving up its anti-North Korea policies and these conditions would be delivered to the United States. And I think a very important mediator role of South Korea should be something that would work for the dialogue between the US and North Korea. After the Olympic Games, maybe in April, there will possibly be US and South Korean joint military exercises, and I think afterward there will be more and more talks, some agenda settings, practical meetings, and maybe in June-July we can expect a meeting between two Koreas.
The views and opinions expressed by Kim Hyun-wook do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.