In another groundbreaking step toward peace deals on the Korean Peninsula, North Korea’s Kim Jong-un is no longer demanding that the US withdraw all troops from South Korea as a condition for a denuclearization plan.
Denuclearization is a top priority for the US. North Korea has long expressed a willingness to make such a deal, so long as they don’t have to worry about a US attack. This was generally assumed to involve removing the 30,000 US troops along the South Korean side of the border.
North Korea now is said to be seeking a “complete denuclearization” of the Korean Peninsula. This would mean both ridding themselves of their arsenal and South Korea ensuring no US nukes are being staged from their territory.
This is a substantial change in North Korea’s deterrent calculation. The likely reason for this is ongoing progress toward a peace deal, formally ending the 1950 Korean War. If such a deal is reached, it greatly reduces the risk of a US attack out of South Korea, as South Korea would doubtless object to being a staging area immediately after pushing for peace.
Even with peace in Korea, withdrawing 30,000 US troops would be no small matter for the administration to sign off on. This is a substantial overseas deployment, and decisions on removal or relocation of the force could take time. With it no longer a North Korean demand, such a move could be done at leisure afterwards, and no longer risks holding up the grand bargains sought in Korea.
The prospect of such a peace deal only become public knowledge this week. In fact, South Korean officials confirmed media reports about such talks on Wednesday, though the US had previously affirmed that they were in favor of such a peace deal.
Officials not only confirmed that the Kim-Moon summit would be dealing with this, but that South Korea would also try to set the stage for the Trump-Kim summit, and a denuclearization deal.
White House officials added, amid confirmation of their support for peace, that they’ve been holding very high level direct talks with North Korea. They did not elaborate, but reports have CIA Director and Secretary of State nominee Mike Pompeo having made a secret trip to North Korea to meet Kim.
This serious prospect of peace is a testament to how much diplomatic progress has been made so far in 2018, with North Korea having gone from a pariah nation to pursuing a number of important diplomatic avenues. In addition to the Kim-Moon summit, they also have a Kim-Trump summit planned for May or early June.
Substantial progress has been made on other avenues as well. The US is reportedly considering opening an embassy in North Korea. On Friday, the hotline between North and South Korea is scheduled to be turned back on.
Peace is a high priority in both North and South Korea, as the resumption of the war in earnest would destroy much of both nations. The two sides have been steadily increasingly their armament throughout the conflict, and are armed to the teeth.
Finalizing all the details on this grand bargain of peace will take time. This is unsurprising, as 68 years of war is a lot to unravel in a timely fashion. There is so much to be gained, however, that it seems set to be a major focus of bilateral diplomacy going forward.