The Inter-Korean summit, which started with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un crossing the militarized zone (DMZ) line in Panmunjom and shaking hands with South Korean President Moon Jae-in at 9:29 a.m. on April 27, was a big global event enough to attract attention from all over the world. The two leaders launched a ‘surprise show’ even by crossing together the line to North Korea amid more than 4,000 reporters from all around the world visiting and watching it.
The summit was a result of the coinciding interests of the two leaders, that is, the North Korean leader feeling threatened with U.S. economic sanctions and military pressure intensifying against North Korea’s nuclear weapons and the South Korean President focusing on South Korea’s leading role in issues related to the Korean Peninsula.
Officially, the inter-Korean summit was for coordination regarding the North Korean nuclear issue prior to the upcoming US-North Korea summit. However, before any results coming from the US-North Korea summit, two leaders issued a joint statement promising to declare the end of the Korean War and sign a peace treaty within this year for a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula
Amid the North Korean leader not mentioning nuclear disarmament at all, Moon and Kim focused more on ‘same race’ and ‘unification’ than on the nuclear issue in the statement. It is true that this sentimental approach touched and excited a number of South Koreans as if peace and unification were around the corner. That may be the reason why the opposition Liberty Korea Party denounced the statement as putting the cart before the horse.
Even before the end of the summit, a large number of South Korean news outlets released comments about how successful the summit was, including future tasks to follow the summit. Expectations for meaningful accomplishments such as unification covered the entire peninsula. Rosy prospects about the Eurasian Railroad, inter-Korean family reunion, reopening of the Kaesong Industrial Complex and huge job creation overwhelmed the nuclear disarmament which was supposed to be the key issue of the summit.
Meanwhile, quite differently from their previous attitudes and behaviors, North Korean news outlets such as the Rodong Sinmun, Korean Central News Agency and Korean Central Broadcasting Committee reported the entire Panmunjom Declaration as it is. It seems that their purpose is to get the upper hand in the upcoming Washington-Pyongyang summit by stressing that the ball is now in the court of the United States. In other words, the North may blame the South and the United States if the result of the upcoming summit is not satisfactory.
It is not too much to say that Washington has been led by the two Koreas with the lack of a decisive option. However, it reconfirmed the complete, verifiable and irreversible dismantlement (CVID) of the North Korea’s nuclear weapons after the Panmunjom Declaration. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo mentioned that, although he was encouraged by the two leaders’ goal for complete denuclearization, the U.S. is concentrating on CVID without delay.
It cannot be said for sure whether the North Korean leader’s gesture during the recent summit was from his confidence based on the completed nuclear weapons of the North or from his reality check following the United States’ maximum pressure and engagement strategy. Things will become clear through the upcoming summit between the U.S. and the North. It should be kept in mind that excessive expectations can lead to yet another disappointment.