North Korea carried out six nuclear tests between 2006 and 2017.
With the United States imposing the first new sanctions on North Korea since the second US-North Korea summit broke down last month and Pyongyang pulling out of a liaison office, the denuclearisation process seems to be rapidly sliding back to square one.
The joint liaison office had been set up in September in the border city of Kaesong after a historic summit between leader Kim Jong Un and South Korea’s President Moon Jae-In early last year.
Pyongyang’s decision to pull out can only be seen as a major setback for Seoul, as Moon’s standing as an effective mediator between Pyongyang and Washington has received a blow.
Moon Jae-In was instrumental in brokering talks between the nuclear-armed, sanctions-hit North and Washington.
He has long backed engagement with Pyongyang to bring it to the negotiating table and has been pushing the carrot of inter-Korean development projects, among them the restarting of an industrial zone also in Kaesong and lucrative cross-border tourist visits by Southerners to the North’s picturesque Mount Kumgang.
However, the sanctions currently in place block their resumption, while a preliminary study for a plan to renovate the North’s decrepit rail system has been delayed.
Though South Korea insists it will continue to staff the office, set up as a regular channel of communication to ease hostility, the two countries “technically remain at war.”
Signals are already emanating that Pyongyang is preparing for a missile or space launch. US news outlet NPR had reported based on satellite image analysis of a key facility near Pyongyang that such an attempt was possible.
As per NPR, the images of Sanumdong, one of the facilities Pyongyang had used to produce inter-continental ballistic missiles and space rockets, were taken days before US President Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un met in Hanoi for their high-stakes summit, which ended in failure.
This makes the situation worrisome as the intentions of Pyongyang are unclear and gets dubious by the day.
As of now, Trump seems to stand by his “dear friend Kim.” All that Trump has said of Pyongyang’s likely resumption of weapons testing is that he “would be surprised in a negative way if Kim did anything that was not per our understanding. But we’ll see what happens.”
North Korea carried out six nuclear tests between 2006 and 2017 and it was thanks to diplomatic efforts led by the US and South Korea to denuclearise the Korean Peninsula that there was a lull in rocket launches.
US-North Korean engagement has appeared to be in limbo since the Feb.27-28 summit, despite US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo saying on March 4 that he was hopeful he could send a team to North Korea in the next couple of weeks.
Nuclear weapons are the deadliest enemies of humanity and the world community should respond to the dangers of accumulation and proliferation of weapons.
Pyongyang has warned it may rethink a freeze on missile and nuclear tests, in place since 2017, unless Washington makes concessions.
If Pyongyang attempts to resume weapons development, it would send a dangerous signal to the world.
Ditching the negotiations table at this stage cannot be the right thing to do.
Considering the importance of the subject, diplomacy should be given more time.