Russia may be more eager than US to see N Korea denuclearization

May 02, 2019 12:28
Russian President Vladimir Putin and North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un shake hands prior to their talks in Vladivostok last Thursday. Photo: Reuters

Last week, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un met with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Vladivostok, Russia, the first-ever summit between the two.

As expected, the denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula was on top of the agenda.

Apparently, the Vladivostok summit was North Korea’s “Plan B”, which most probably wouldn’t have been activated at all if Kim's second meeting with US President Donald Trump in Hanoi in February had borne fruit.

It is against such a background that Kim had to go for the second best and tried to play the Putin card.

In other words, what truly sealed the meeting between Kim and Putin is the fruitless Trump-Kim summit about two months ago.

As the United States insists on sticking to existing economic sanctions against North Korea until after the latter has completely given up its nuclear weapons, it is not difficult to imagine why Pyongyang is looking to Moscow for diplomatic support.

What's noteworthy is that the US and Russia actually see eye to eye when it comes to the general principle of achieving complete denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula.

Washington and Moscow, however, cannot agree on the details of the nuclearization process, as well as the means of achieving it.

Moscow, of course, was perfectly aware that Kim was trying to play the Putin card against Trump.

Even so, Putin didn't mind because he wanted to play the North Korean card as well.

By proposing to reopen the six-party talks, which have ground to an indefinite halt since 2009, Moscow can perhaps once again revive its influence over the Korean peninsula.

Putin, in fact, may be more eager than Trump to see the denuclearization of North Korea because once Pyongyang’s nukes are gone, the justification for maintaining heavy US military presence along the 38th parallel and in Japan will also crumble.

It remains to be seen whether the Putin card can help North Korea ease the pressure of the economic sanctions, but at least one thing is certain: Moscow is already lending its voice to Pyongyang.

As Putin has said, North Korea would need security guarantees that would have to be internationally and legally binding, as well as vouch for North Korean sovereignty, rather than merely agreements between Washington and Seoul, once it agrees to give up its nuclear weapons and embark on disarmament.

On Tuesday, North Korea's vice foreign minister said if the US fails to present a new position in the denuclearization talks by the end of the year, it will "see truly undesired consequences", Reuters reported, citing state news agency KCNA.

Perhaps the meeting in Vladivostok might turn out to be a delicate catalyst for the third Trump-Kim summit.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on April 26

Translation by Alan Lee with additional reporting

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Hong Kong Economic Journal