ROK president likely to seek U.S. concessions on denuclearization
As denuclearization talks between Washington and Pyongyang hit an impasse, Moon Jae-in, president of the Republic of Korea, will likely to persuade his U.S. counterpart to make some concessions to Pyongyang in order to push forward the peace progress, analysts said.
According to Xinhua News Agency, Moon embarked on his trip to Washington on Wednesday for talks with U.S. President Donald Trump, aiming to restart the DPRK-U.S. dialogues on denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula.
Moon and Trump will meet on Thursday. The meeting will mark the seventh of its kind since Moon took office in May 2017.
Kim Hyun-chong, a deputy director of ROK's National Security Office, told reporters on Wednesday that the meeting between Moon and Trump comes as "there is a need for consultation to quickly revive the momentum for dialogue following the Hanoi summit".
Moon's trip follows the collapse last month of the second summit between Trump and Kim Jong-un, top leader of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, in Vietnam's capital Hanoi, triggering the ongoing deadlock in the DPRK-U.S. denuclearization talks.
"The situation on the Korean Peninsula is now at a critical stage. Moon, who sees himself a mediator between the U.S. and the DPRK, is trying to save it from becoming more complicated," said Wang Junsheng, an international relations expert with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.
Since the main reason for Hanoi summit's breakdown is the two sides' disagreement in bridging differences on the extent of the DPRK's denuclearization and sanctions relief from the U.S., Wang said, in this upcoming meeting between Moon and Trump, the ROK president may propose a compromise between Washington and Pyongyang.
"For example, having the two sides agree to a 'comprehensive agreement' on peace and denuclearization, which may satisfy the U.S., while accepting a more phased implementation process, which may also meet the DPRK's need," he said.
Meanwhile, Moon's approval ratings have been sliding since the Hanoi summit. According to a Gallup poll taken in Seoul, Moon's approval rating fell to a record low of 43 percent in March, down from a high of 76 percent in May 2018, when he was campaigning for the first landmark DPRK-U.S. summit in Singapore.
"If the peninsula issues stall with no progress, Moon's political legacy will be at stake," said Liu Ming, a researcher of Institute of International Relations at the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, adding that the ROK president is in no doubt hoping to yield some pragmatic results and seek flexibility from Washington in this pivotal trip.
Moon's efforts to promote inter-Korean cooperation and reconciliation have also suffered setbacks since the Hanoi summit. On March 23, DPRK personnel have left the joint inter-Korean Liaison Office in the border city of Kaesong. Though the personnel reportedly returned to the office a few days later, Pyongyang has so far offered no explanation for the sudden absence.
Moon has advocated for inter-Korean projects as a way to promote further peace on the Korean Peninsula. These efforts include re-opening the joint industrial complex in Kaesong and resuming group tours at the DPRK's Mount Kumgang, but doing so would run afoul of international sanctions.
Liu said persuading the U.S. president to ease economic sanctions could be as a key breakthrough in breaking the deadlock in talks.
In a recent interview with the ROK's Yonhap News Agency, Harry Kazianis, the director of Korean studies at the Washington-based Center for the National Interest think tank, said that the ROK president could propose that the U.S. offer a package of sanctions relief that is "temporary and conditional" on the DPRK compliance with its denuclearization commitments.
If Moon can persuade Trump to make these concessions to Pyongyang, he will have more leeway in dealing with Korean Peninsula issues, Kazianis said.