South Korea’s foreign minister told reporters Monday that Seoul hopes to see an official end to the Korean War by the end of the year, which would require all the parties who signed the 1953 armistice – the two Koreas, China, and the United States – to agree to a peace treaty.
Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha spoke to reporters shortly after a telephone conversation with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. “(We) are in close consultations with the U.S. on this field. And I know that there was (relevant) discussion at the North Korea-U.S. summit level,” Kang told reporters on ending the Korean War formally, which would officially remove the need for a Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) on the border between the two Koreas.
“I think [we] need to produce a result through consultations with the U.S., and North Korea. But [South Korea] plans to handle the issue of timing and format with flexibility,” Joongang Ilbo adds Kang as telling reporters.
The South Korean outlet Yonhap says Kang told reporters the ideal date for the end of the war would be July 27, the anniversary of the armistice agreement, but “the government won’t be obsessed with a timeline or format.”
Since China signed the armistice that ended physical combat but not the war itself, Seoul and Beijing needed further talks to ensure a successful end to the war, she added.
“I think China could play a very important role in the overall process, and South Korea will have close consultations with China,” Kang told reporters, calling the end of the war an “entrance” to a new process.
Kang’s remarks follow reports that South Korea will begin contacting the north to slowly demilitarize their border. Joongang reported on Monday that an unnamed government official told the newspaper South Korea is planning to tell officials in the north at their next joint military meeting “to pull back hundreds of pieces of military equipment it sees as a threat to the South Korean capital. It would like them moved 30 to 40 kilometers (19 to 25 miles) away from the border.” Joongang lists the military assets as “150 pieces of 170 millimeter-caliber self-propelled artillery, which has a range of between 40 and 60 kilometers, and 200 pieces of 240 millimeter-caliber multiple rocket launchers, which include Seoul in their range.”
At their first joint military meeting last week, North Korean and South Korean officials discussed the potential “trial” demilitarization of Panmunjom, the border town typically used for inter-Korean discussions and host of the first-ever meeting between the heads of state of both nations, dictator Kim Jong-un and leftist President Moon Jae-in.
Also upcoming is an expected joint announcement between South Korea and the United States on upcoming military exercises scheduled for August. Following his meeting with Kim Jong-un last week, President Donald Trump announced that the United States would halt joint military “war games” with the South in response to Kim agreeing to meet him in Singapore.
“We will be stopping the war games which will save us a tremendous amount of money, unless and until we see the future negotiation is not going along like it should. But we’ll be saving a tremendous amount of money, plus I think it’s very provocative,” Trump said at the time.
South Korean officials expressed confusion at the remarks, stating that they needed to clarify Trump’s intent. The South Korean newspaper Dong-A Ilbo reported Monday that an upcoming clarification from both governments will soon occur, citing “a diplomatic source.” The newspaper predicts the announcement will occur sometime this week and include the cancelation of August’s Ulchi-Freedom Guardian (UFG) military exercises. The largest of these exercises – Foal Eagle and Key Resolve – typically occur in March and April, giving Seoul and Washington plenty of time to restore them if Kim backs out of end his country’s illegal nuclear weapons program.
Rumors before Kim and Trump’s summit last week suggested that ending the Korean War may have been on their schedule of topics to discuss. Ultimately, the joint declaration they signed did not include anything on ending the war, but instead a promise that Kim Jong-un had made to commit to “recovering POW/MIA remains, including the immediate repatriation of those already identified.” The U.S. does not have the total list of Americans killed or missing in the Korean War that have yet to return.