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    People pass by a TV screen showing file footages of U.S. President Donald Trump, right, and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un during a news program at the Seoul Railway Station in Seoul, South Korea, Monday, April 9, 2018

    DPRK Nuclear Freeze: 'Dialog Means There's No Need for Cannons to Start Talking'

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    Pyongyang's decision to suspend its nuclear and missile testing ahead of talks with South Korean and US officials has been hailed by world leaders, and has led to questions about North Korea's diplomatic strategy. Speaking to Sputnik, North Korea expert Dr. Leonid Petrov outlined why the news wasn't all that unpredictable.

    Sputnik: What is your assessment of Mr. Kim's announcement ahead of his talks with the South Korean and US presidents? How big a step is this?

    Dr. Petrov: I think it's the right step; it's a very diplomatic statement. Kim Jong-un just confirmed that North Korea is determined to denuclearize, and determined to drop the programs designed to develop nuclear weapons and intercontinental ballistic missiles in one step. 

    At the same time, Kim Jong-un didn't lose face in terms of the respect of the domestic audience in North Korea. He didn't say that he's completely abandoning the nuclear weapons. He didn't say that the missiles are going to be scrapped. He simply said that ICBMs are no longer necessary, and the new nuclear devices are not going to be developed or tested.

    So I think it's a very diplomatic, well-measured and important step, coming just one week before his summit meeting with South Korean President Moon Jae-in; in view of the forthcoming meeting with President Trump, it's absolutely the right move.

    North Korean leader Kim Jong Un inspects the intercontinental ballistic missile Hwasong-14 in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang July 5, 2017.
    © REUTERS / KCNA
    North Korean leader Kim Jong Un inspects the intercontinental ballistic missile Hwasong-14 in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang July 5, 2017.

    Sputnik: Mr. Kim has also committed to join international efforts to halt nuclear tests altogether. Perhaps you could elaborate a bit on his apparent change of heart. There had been a very rapid descent in terms of relations with the US, and in the kind of rhetoric used. Now, the North Korean leader seems to have turned full circle. That in itself is a big surprise, isn't it?

    Dr. Petrov: Well both Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un are known for their quick moves and kind of moderate leadership. I'm pretty sure that last year, when Kim was launching a barrage of ICBMs and detonating the first thermonuclear weapon (the hydrogen bomb was detonated in September), at the same time in the background there were negotiations going on between Pyongyang and Washington. 

    That's how we can explain the 'fire and fury' rhetoric mixed with promises that something good may come out of negotiations. We remember that Donald Trump actually promised, before he was elected, that one day he would meet with Kim Jong-un, sit down and have a hamburger, and sort out all the problems and disagreements. It looks like he's going to live up to this promise.

    Kim Jong-un is of course in a very difficult situation after the tightening of international sanctions, where even Moscow and Beijing turned away from Pyongyang. I think we can attribute the change of heart in the North Korean side to the situation where international trade became virtually impossible for North Korea, where the supply of oil and consumer goods from China and gas and electricity from Russia actually made North Korea much more concerned about its economic development. That's why Kim Jong-un has once again reaffirmed and reiterated the importance of the national economy.

    A vehicle leaving the Kaesong joint industrial zone passes through disinfectant spray before a checkpoint at the CIQ immigration centre near the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) separating North an South Korea, in Paju on February 11, 2016
    © AFP 2018 / ED JONES
    A vehicle leaving the Kaesong joint industrial zone passes through disinfectant spray before a checkpoint at the CIQ immigration centre near the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) separating North an South Korea, in Paju on February 11, 2016

    Sputnik: Dr. Petrov, in your opinion, how likely is Mr. Kim to stick to his pledge?

    Dr. Petrov: It's difficult to predict how the summit between North and South Korea will end up, or whether the Kim-Trump summit will be fruitful. But I think that as long as people are talking…if there is a dialogue, there is no war, there is no need for the cannons to start talking. I believe that what the North and South Koreans are doing right now is just a desperate attempt to avert a war, which President Trump actually threatened the Korean peninsula with.

    We know that if there is a war against North Korea, South Korea will be the first victim. So nobody needs this war – not China, or Russia, or Japan would benefit from a nuclear catastrophe, a humanitarian catastrophe, a catastrophe in terms of the ecology or the economy. [It would be] a disaster for the whole region.

     A view from South Korea towards North Korea in the Joint Security Area at Panmunjom. North and South Korean military personnel, as well as a single US soldier, are shown
    A view from South Korea towards North Korea in the Joint Security Area at Panmunjom. North and South Korean military personnel, as well as a single US soldier, are shown

    Sputnik: How much of a turning point could this be then in the long-standing Korean crisis? Are you as hopeful as a lot of the global audience is now?

    Dr. Petrov: Yes, I'm very optimistic about the current stage of this development. Because for the long ten years of the conservative government in South Korea there was no dialogue at all. North and South Koreans stopped communicating and stopped producing; there were a number of joint economic areas shut down during the ten years of the conservative government in Seoul. President Moon Jae-in was elected on a promise to improve relations with North Korea. 

    At the moment, at least the communication hotline between the two militaries has been resumed. I think now they are stopping the propaganda loudspeakers sending propaganda across the Demilitarized Zone, because the summit between North and South Korean leaders is going to take place in Panmunjom, in the middle of the Demilitarized Zone.

    I think they will be discussing the possibility of the resumption of inter-Korean cooperation at the Kaesong industrial park; possibly Kumgang Resort, the place accepting South Korean tourists where divided families separated by the Korean War some 67 years ago could meet, is going to resume its activities…

    It used to be a very different atmosphere, when South Koreans could drive their cars across the Demilitarized Zone, and when North Korean athletes would participate in international games or the World Cup in Seoul. It was a completely different era in the early 2000s. I think North and South Koreans remember this positive experience, and are trying to make another step toward reconciliation, and one day possibly a reunification of the country.

    The views and opinions expressed by Leonid Petrov are those of the expert and do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.

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    expert commentary, analysis, freeze, Moon Jae-in, Kim Jong-un, Donald Trump, United States, South Korea, Democratic Republic of North Korea (DPRK)
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