WASHINGTON -- North Korean leader Kim Jong-un's surprise invitation to South Korean President Moon Jae-in to visit Pyongyang has created additional pressure for the South to be tough with the provocative regime.
Moon responded cautiously, saying that the two sides should build the conditions for a future summit. The liberal leader has long embraced a policy of engagement with Pyongyang to peacefully end the impasse over its nuclear and ballistic missile programs.
The United States, meanwhile, has adopted a tough stance under President Donald Trump to ensure the North does not develop the capability to strike the US with a nuclear weapon.
Should Moon accept Kim's offer without making it clear the summit contributes to the resolution of the North's nuclear program, it could come at the risk of upsetting South Korea's ally, the US, and the rest of the international community, US experts said.
"Moon should insist on a summit agenda that includes denuclearization, the North's defiance of the international community and threats to its neighbors, while emphasizing that sanctions will continue as long as the triggering behavior continues," Bruce Klingner, senior research fellow for Northeast Asia at the Heritage Foundation, said in emailed comments to Yonhap. "Then, there won't be a problem with Washington."
South Korean President Moon Jae-in (left) and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un (Yonhap)
But if Moon "over-eagerly pursues the naive engagement policies of his progressive predecessors," Klingner said, Seoul will be "working against the international consensus on the need to punish Pyongyang for its repeated violations of UN resolutions."
North Korea is banned under multiple UN Security Council resolutions from testing nuclear weapons and ballistic missile technology. Still, the defiant regime staged its sixth and most powerful nuclear test last year along with three tests of intercontinental ballistic missiles.
"Moon should realize that offering economic benefits for symbolic North Korean gestures is not only ineffectual but would themselves risk being violations of UN resolutions," Klingner said, referring to past agreements under which the North extracted economic aid in exchange for a denuclearization commitment but later backtracked.
Robert Manning, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council think tank, urged Moon to "get serious," saying Seoul has already accommodated Pyongyang for the Winter Olympics under way in PyeongChang.
"Pyongyang is waging this charm offensive because sanctions are starting to cause pain. They are viewing (South Korea) as a 'weak link' and hope to undo sanctions. Sanctions should be intensified."
If the third inter-Korean summit is to take place, he argued it should be based on a moratorium on North Korea's nuclear and missile testing, an understanding of the 1991 inter-Korean reconciliation accords and their implementation, and North Korea's acceptance of denuclearization as an end state and willingness to open parallel talks with the US.
Bruce Bennett, a senior defense analyst at RAND Corp., went further to suggest Moon turn the tables on Kim.
"As I understand oriental culture, the weak leader goes to visit the strong leader to pay his obeisance," he said. "I don't think President Moon should do that; Kim Jong-un wants this as a major victory for his internal politics. I think President Moon should invite Kim Jong-un to come to Seoul, saying that the 2000 and 2007 South-North Summits were in Pyongyang, and that it is Seoul's turn to host such a summit." (Yonhap)