The Korea Times interviewed former Unification Minister and Kyungnam University President Park Jae-kyu, an architect of the first inter-Korean summit in June 2000 between then-President Kim Dae-jung and North Korean leader Kim Jong-il. Park gave advice to the Moon Jae-in administration, which is expected to uphold the legacies of former liberal leaders Kim and Roh Moo-hyun. — Ed.
Ex-Unification Minister urges President Moon to send special envoy to North korea
Q. President Moon Jae-in emphasizes that he will carry forth the late Presidents Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun's engagement policy toward North Korea. Considering the difference between North Korea under Kim Jong-il and under Kim Jong-un, what points should be taken into account when dealing with today's situation?
A. During the Kim Jong-il regime, the nuclear and missile issues were less menacing, and negotiations were underway to resolve the issues.
However, since 2008, the Republic of Korea (ROK)and U.S. governments have taken a hardline toward North Korea, with no policy space or flexibility to pursue dialogue and negotiations, and a ‘two track' policy variously could not be promoted.
The new government should restore trust between the two Koreas through step-by-step measures such as inter-Korean dialogue, and improve inter-Korean relations in a comprehensive manner.
In particular, in the Kim Jong-un era, various measures should be taken to solve the North Korean nuclear and missile issues, and efforts should be made in close cooperation with neighboring countries such as the U.S. and China.
Q. President Moon Jae-in referred to his government's top priority in formulating its North Korea policy as normalizing and restoring inter-Korean relations. Please explain the ‘normalization and restoration' level that is being considered.
Do you think it is possible to ‘normalize and restore' relations in view of the North Korean provocations and the situation in Northeast Asia? When do you expect such to be possible?
A. It is desirable that normalization and restoration of inter-Korean relations should be accomplished with confidence through a step-by-step and comprehensive approach, as the Moon Jae-in government emphasizes, rather than through a breakthrough and grand bargain.
It is important not to rush the inter-Korean relations so that we do not become disheartened, and it is important to push ahead continuously.
In other words, it is relatively less problematic to go ahead with sociocultural and humanitarian activities like providing medicines for the vulnerable such as infants and the elderly in North Korea, humanitarian aid, and reunions of separated families.
Normalization and restoration of inter-Korean relations is impossible without a basis of mutual trust. It is desirable to distinguish between issues that need to be addressed in the short term and issues that need to be strategically approached from a long-term perspective.
In order to begin to improve relations through restoration of trust, low-level sociocultural exchanges and cooperation should be restarted and gradually expanded in scale and scope.
The Panmunjom communication channel between the two Koreas should be restored and put into operation as soon as possible.
Following these measures and the dispatch of special envoys to the U.S., China, Japan, and Russia, a special envoy should be dispatched to North Korea to discuss inter-Korean relations issues, including the nuclear issue. In order to move toward normalization and restoration of full-fledged inter-Korean relations, talks should be held between the authorities of the two Koreas.
Q. There is a proposal of a ‘two-track' approach to contribute to resolving the nuclear issue through humanitarian assistance, cultural exchange, and reunion of separated families, as well as through cooperation with the U.S. and China in resolving the North Korean nuclear issue. What do you think should be kept in mind to balance this?
A. As the Moon Jae-in government works to resolve the North Korean nuclear issue, we will be able to make a significant turning point in the progress of inter-Korean relations as well as foreign policy.
The North Korean nuclear issue should be approached in a ‘two-track' way, where negotiations along with sanctions and pressure are used to find a solution.
Recently, former U.S. Secretary of Defense William J. Perry and even experts from the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington emphasized that the U.S. should resolve the North Korean nuclear issue in a ‘two-track' manner.
If North Korea's nuclear and missile problems are not resolved, the Moon Jae-in government will not be able to strongly pursue exchanges and cooperation between the two Koreas, given the international community's robust sanctions on North Korea and the sentiments of the Korean people.
If Pyongyang cannot make a breakthrough in solving the nuclear and missile issues, it will not be easy for large-scale inter-Korean economic cooperation projects to go forward, especially the restart of the Gaeseong Industrial Complex (GIC) or the resumption of tourism to Mt. Geumgang.
Therefore, through low-level exchanges and cooperation that do not directly finance North Korea's nuclear and missile development, it is necessary to first establish a trusting atmosphere between the two Koreas, to lead the progress of resolving the nuclear and missile issues, and to enhance the level of exchanges and cooperation. We can find a method to balance how to raise the level of cooperation.
Q. During the George W. Bush administration in the U.S., the Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun governments experienced relatively rough relations with the U.S. on the North Korea issue. Do you think the current Moon Jae-in administration will inevitably clash with the U.S. on North Korea policy? Based on past experience, what strategies should be used to avoid friction?
A. Since the door is open for dialogue to achieve peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula and the denuclearization of North Korea, I do not think the Donald Trump administration will unilaterally close that door.
So far, the Donald Trump government's North Korea policy does not seem to be contrary to the two-track policy of the Moon Jae-in government of pursuing sanctions and pressure alongside dialogue and cooperation.
In particular, the Donald Trump administration has a strong will to resolve the North Korean nuclear issue.
Through negotiations for the denuclearization of North Korea we should look for a turning point in the resolution of the nuclear and missile issues by establishing points of mutual trade-off, such as the halting of North Korea's nuclear and ballistic missile tests and controlling of the level of U.S.-ROK military exercises.
President Donald Trump also told South Korea's special presidential envoy that Washington is willing to make peace through engagement with Pyongyang if the conditions are right, which shows willingness to resolve the problem.
In the wake of U.S. publically-made promises to guarantee North Korea's system, North Korea should develop momentum for its own development and resume dialogue while suspending its nuclear and missile tests.
If North Korea trusts South Korea and the U.S. and comes to the dialogue with earnest attitude, there will be a new start, and it is necessary to make good use of this opportunity for change.
Q. The U.S. and South Korea have agreed to hold a summit at the end of June and President Donald Trump has raised issues including increasing defense and THAAD cost sharing, and the renegotiation of the U.S.-ROK Free Trade Agreement. Can you provide possible scenarios to resolve these issues?
Do you think it is possible for the U.S. to pursue U.S.-DPRK Peace Agreement or opt to put pressure on the Moon government with "Korea passing" if no agreement is reached during the summit? Do you agree or disagree? Please explain.
A. The ROK and U.S. governments will continue to consult on a number of issues, but most importantly, policy should be decided and pursued based on the general consensus of the people.
These issues should not serve as obstacles to the ROK-U.S. relations, especially the resolution of the North Korean nuclear issue and establishing the peace process on the Korean Peninsula.
I think that the two countries will find a way to resolve these issues that secure their own national interests, but at the same time make appropriate compromises that take into account the long-term bilateral partnership.
Regardless whether these issues are well negotiated or not, it is unlikely that the Trump administration will make unilateral decisions related to the Korean Peninsula by negotiating with North Korea or China directly, excluding South Korea.
President Donald Trump told the South Korean special envoy that he looked forward to working closely with President Moon to resolve the North Korean nuclear issue.
The issues pertaining to the Korean Peninsula can no longer be swayed by a unilateral decision — compromise or pressure — of any one country.
If the negotiations are based on public interest and support during the mutual negotiation process, it is unlikely to result in a biased and unilateral negotiation.
A reasonable compromise can be reached if the negotiation process is carried out through the public opinion and consensus-building efforts domestically.
Q. Both South Korea and the U.S. have expressed the possibility of resuming dialogue with North Korea, but there are controversies over its conditions. Do you think there is room for narrowing the gap between South and North Korea, South Korea and the U.S., and North Korea and the U.S.? Why do you think so?
A. The U.S. is five months into the Donald Trump administration. The administration has displayed a visible intention to resolve the North Korean nuclear issue. With this fact and the new Moon Jae-in administration in South Korea, I believe a feasible condition can be created to switch to a policy of dialogue and negotiations.
Recently, a 1.5-track dialogue between the U.S. and North Korea took place. Comments from senior U.S. officials suggest that there is a change in attitude — from one-sided sanctions and pressure to making peace with North Korea by providing regime security and intervention — to engender change in North Korea and for the suspension of nuclear and missile tests.
Q. There are concerns that U.N. sanctions on North Korea currently in force may become an obstacle to reopen the GIC and the Mt. Geumgang tourism. Do you think we should resume these programs from the standpoint of normalization and restoration of inter-Korean relations? What mechanism do you think should come first in order to alleviate international concern over the resumption of these programs?
A. Normalization and restoration of inter-Korean relations should be progressively pursued through step-by-step measures to restore trust and improve relations between the two Koreas.
In order to promote normalization and restoration of inter-Korean relations, step-by-step and comprehensive approaches are needed to restart the GIC and resume tourism to Mt. Geumgang.
North Korea has suffered U.N. sanctions put in place by the international community including the U.S. due to the North's nuclear program and provocations. However, the GIC and Mt. Geumgang tourism are a difficult question because the two Koreas have agreed to establish a foundation for peace and unification.
If GIC operations are not reopened and if Mt. Geumgang tourism is not resumed, my sense tells me that inter-Korean relations will not be restored.
If the complex does not reopen and the tours do not resume, then it may demonstrate the limits of the two Koreas' capabilities toward unification, and thus makes it difficult to say what will happen with relations in the future.
In order to resume the operation of the GIC and tourism to Mt. Geumgang, it is necessary to establish a situation in which inter-Korean issues are resolved to some extent.
In this way, it will be possible to dispel concerns and persuade the international community of the importance of inter-Korean relations.
Progress in inter-Korean relations can play a role in promoting resolution of the North Korean nuclear issue and change in North Korea.
In order to induce positive change, methods need to change to seek developmental alternatives different from the past.