Contrasting North and South Korea at night

While U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo remains mostly mum about his visit this past weekend to Pyongyang, North Korea’s capital, South Korea’s consul general for the Southeast, told Global Atlanta that the current dialogue provides an “opportunity” for denuclearization on the Korean peninsula while promoting peace.

Korean Consul General Young-jun Kim

In keeping with the spirit of the “Sunshine” policy which sought to soften North Korea’s attitude towards South Korea from the late 1990s until 2010, Mr. Kim said that the current situation on the peninsula has changed considerably.

He pointed during an interview at the consulate general downtown to changes in South Korea where the country has become less conservative and more willing to consider new relations with its northern neighbor.

Some experts claim that North Korea’s nuclear capabilities were still being developed during the period of the “Sunshine” policy, but now have the capability of reaching the United States.

In addition, Mr. Kim cited stiffer sanctions leveled against North Korea by the 15 members of the U.N. Security Council. And he said that the “sour words” exchanged between U.S. President Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un, North Korea’s supreme leader, have been replaced by dialogue as exemplified by Mr. Pompeo’s weekend visit to North Korea, his fourth, and the input of others including South Korea’s president, Moon Jae-in.

Another significant difference he mentioned is that in the past agreements signed between North and South Korea were signed only by “high officials,” not by the countries’ leaders. “This time the leaders are talking over these issues,” he said. “That makes it different.”

On a personal note, he added that it was his opinion Kim Jong-un’s age, who is in his 30s, also is a significant factor. “He could rule North Korea for more than 30 years,” he said, prompting him to consider the kind of country he will be ruling. That question, he added, must weigh on his mind in view of the severe sanctions North Korea is experiencing and the options that could be available if the country was more open.

Mr. Kim also referenced the positive role being played by South Korea’s president, Moon Jae-in, who met with Chairman Kim Jong-un in September. “I believe that the historic Pyongyang Inter-Korea Summit has provided important momentum for the road to lasting peace on the Korean Peninsula free of nuclear weapons,” Mr. Kim wrote in a published opinion article.

When asked if the U.S. should maintain sanctions on North Korea while seeking at the same time that North Korea dismantle its nuclear weapons, he referred to the comments that South Korea’s foreign minister, Kang Kyung-wha, recently made In Seoul, South Korea’s capital, where she reportedly called for “a different approach” and more “flexibility.”

The foreign minister mentioned the importance of building mutual trust as an important element for sustaining the dialogue between the U.S. and North Korea. She reportedly also said that the U.S. would declare an end to the Korean War, a key demand of Pyongyang, in exchange for the dismantlement of a specific nuclear complex.

Throughout the interview Mr. Kim encouraged greater dialogue including an active role for his government. He even said that he supported “citizen activism” in the U.S. with U.S. citizens sharing “their opinions.”

“It’s a question of which comes first “the egg or the chicken,” he added citing the importance of public  opinion in a democratic society and called for the dissemination of articles and conferences through the media and academic institutions to broaden an understanding of the challenges involved.

He also supported the establishment of enhanced communications between North and South Korean officials through a joint liaison office in Kaesong.

“We want to be more than a matchmaker. We want a more active role in reconciling the positions of both sides,” he said of his government. “Constant dialogue is very important and we can go beyond just talk through telephone lines. We should arrange meetings and events. We should have constant communication during the process. There may be some tensions, but with constant dialogue and these channels we could find the solutions in advance.”

In addition to a role for increased communication, he echoed that progress in the negotiation would be dependent on mutual trust. While the lack of mutual trust has plagued negotiations in years past, he said that North Korea had granted confidence building measures such as inviting journalists to observe the destruction of tunnels leading to a nuclear weapons test site, the promise to dismantle a missile engine test facility and missile launching pad under the observation of experts from the countries concerned, and returning the remains of some U.S. soldiers killed during the Korea War.

Most  importantly, however, he added that for the dialogue to succeed it would be necessary for the U.S. and South Korean governments to maintain their “rock solid” alliance.