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– Frank Klotz
former Administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration
March 7, 2018
Park Lays Out Korean Trust-Building Plan
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Kelsey Davenport

South Korean President Park Geun-hye last month laid out a process for building trust on the Korean peninsula, an approach she said she hopes will lay the groundwork for “durable peace” and eventually unification.

In a May 8 address to a joint session of the U.S. Congress, Park said South Korea would never accept a nuclear-armed North Korea and that provocations, like Pyongyang’s Feb. 13 nuclear test, would be “met decisively” but that humanitarian aid will not be linked to the political situation. Seoul and Pyongyang gradually would develop trust “through exchange [and] cooperation,” she said.

Park’s approach has three parts, according to Victor Cha, a former deputy head of the U.S. delegation to the negotiations with North Korea on its nuclear program: it begins with keeping promises, then builds a process, and finally creates institutions between the two sides. At a May 17 event at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Cha cited several impediments to this process, which he labeled “trustpolitik.” He said that emotion has affected decision-making on both sides and that it could be difficult for South Korea to signal good intentions when many confidence-building measures have failed in the past.

During her trip to Washington, Park also called for an international peace park inside the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea. Cha suggested this could be an attempt by Park to signal her good intentions to North Korea. Pyongyang’s official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said May 9 that it is not possible to build a peace park in the demilitarized zone while the two countries remain at war. The two countries never have signed a peace treaty ending the Korean War.

Park emphasized the importance of the regional parties speaking “with one voice” on North Korea and sending a “clear and consistent message.”

In a joint press conference with Park on May 7, U.S. President Barack Obama said that the United States and South Korea would engage with North Korea diplomatically and, “over time, build trust” but that Pyongyang must first take “meaningful steps” to abide by its international commitments, particularly giving up its nuclear and ballistic missile programs.

The Obama administration has consistently stressed that North Korea must recommit to denuclearization for talks to begin. (See ACT, May 2013.)

Although bellicose rhetoric out of North Korea has decreased over the past several months, Pyongyang remains insistent that it will not commit to giving up its nuclear arsenal to begin talks.

More dramatically, Pyongyang tested six short-range ballistic missiles May 18-20 in what the KCNA said May 21 was part of “a regular military exercise.” South Korea denounced the action as “provocative.” A spokesman for the South Korean Defense Ministry said at a May 21 press briefing that the launches could be a violation of UN Security Council resolutions, which prohibit missile launches.

In a May 20 press briefing, U.S. State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell said he was not aware of the missile launches violating any UN Security Council resolutions but that the United States urged North Korea to “exercise restraint.”

North Korea has several types of short-range ballistic missiles, which have a range of less than 1,000 kilometers. Pyongyang regularly tests these missiles.

North Korea had moved several Musudan intermediate-range ballistic missiles to one of its test sites, but appears to have moved the missiles to another location.