South Korean President Moon Jae-in said on Thursday that North Korea has dropped its long-standing demand for American forces to withdraw completely from the Korean peninsula as a condition for denuclearization.
“The North Koreans did not present any conditions that the United States could not accept, such as the withdrawal of American troops in South Korea,” Moon told newspaper publishers at a conference ahead of his own summit meeting with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un next Friday.
“They only talk about an end to hostilities against their country and about getting security guarantees. It’s safe to say that the plans for dialogue between the North and the United States could proceed because that has been made clear,” said Moon.
Moon said that Kim told South Korean envoys last month that he is willing to give up nuclear weapons if North Korea receives certain “security guarantees” and does not feel “militarily threatened.”
Moon took it as an encouraging sign that North Korea did not react negatively to joint U.S.-South Korean military exercises this year, as was widely expected.
“Even when the dialogue between the South and the North began due to North Korea’s participation in the PyeongChang Winter Olympics, the so-called April crisis theory that said South-North relations would again go bankrupt once the Olympics were over and the joint South Korea-U.S. military exercises resumed in April continued to keep the people worried,” he recalled.
“Perhaps the situation could have gone in such a direction. But our determination and efforts to create a situation that we want instead of leaving our fate to changes in the situation turned the tide,” he said.
Moon credited U.S. President Donald Trump with bringing North Korea to the negotiating table but cautioned that it is far too early to celebrate diplomatic success.
“As I have mentioned many times, President Trump’s absolute support for dialogue on denuclearization has been a critical force in creating the dramatic change in conditions. But to speak objectively, we are only stepping over the threshold of dialogue now. It is too early to boast of the success of dialogue,” Moon said.
“We are in a situation where we cannot improve the South-North Korean relations only based on successful dialogue between the South and the North. The North Korea-U.S. ties also need to be improved and the North-Japan relations as well. The South-North relations can develop when and if all these issues move forward,” he added, stressing the importance of the as-yet unscheduled Trump-Kim summit over his own meeting with the North Korean leader.
“We cannot repeat past mistakes and so must find new solutions. But the talks will be successful only when all sides reach an agreement on such new solutions. In addition, they will ultimately require an agreement between the North and the U.S.,” he said.
CNN notes that a South Korean official said in March that Kim “understands the South’s stance” about the necessity of proceeding with military exercises, at least those scheduled after the Winter Olympics this year, but he expects joint U.S.-South Korean drills will be “readjusted” if the Korean Peninsula becomes more stable.