His Predecessors Failed. Can Moon Jae-in Make Peace With North Korea?

Another was that any take care of North Korea have to be struck and carried out early within the phrases of the South Korean and American presidents. This ensures that the settlement doesn’t die with a change of governments and political ideologies in Seoul and Washington, because the 2007 settlement and different previous offers did.

“When we look back, the most important thing is speed,” Mr. Moon instructed the present North Korean chief, Kim Jong-un, throughout their assembly final week within the Demilitarized Zone, the fortified border separating the 2 Koreas.

During that assembly, Mr. Moon urged the North Korean to maneuver shortly to make a take care of President Trump throughout their talks, anticipated later this month or subsequent month. “We have to learn lessons from the past,” Mr. Moon instructed Mr. Kim.


President Trump and Mr. Moon on the Blue House in Seoul in November.

Doug Mills/The New York Times

That want for pace is obvious within the quick tempo of diplomacy that seems to be resulting in a first-ever summit assembly between the leaders of the United States and North Korea, who only a few months in the past appeared getting ready to battle.

Mr. Moon, 65, has performed a key position in bringing collectively Mr. Trump and Mr. Kim, who now seem more likely to meet at Panmunjom, the identical “truce village” within the Demilitarized Zone the place Mr. Moon held his talks with Mr. Kim.

Such a gathering could be a triumph for Mr. Moon, who has skilled each highs and lows in his nation’s relations with North Korea.

Mr. Moon was a conscripted member of an elite paratroop unit in 1976, when ax-wielding North Korean troops murdered two American Army officers whereas they pruned a poplar tree that blocked their view at Panmunjom. In “Operation Paul Bunyan,” Mr. Moon’s unit was despatched in to complete chopping down the tree whereas the North Koreans stood again.

Until final week, Mr. Moon’s solely go to to North Korea was in 2004, when he accompanied his mom on a government-arranged reunion to see her youthful sister for the primary time for the reason that Korean War. Mr. Moon himself was born in a refugee camp throughout the battle, after his dad and mom fled their native North Korea on board an American Navy cargo ship.

His method to dealing with the United States is considered one of Mr. Moon’s largest departures from his predecessor, Mr. Roh, who dedicated suicide in 2009 amid corruption allegations surrounding his family.

Mr. Moon seems to have concluded that Mr. Roh doomed his personal peace deal a minimum of partly by failing to get Mr. Bush to again it. Instead, Mr. Roh, fiery and blunt, had vowed to not “kowtow to the Americans.”

Since taking workplace final yr, Mr. Moon has proven himself extra subtle and accommodating in managing relations with Washington.


A rally held in Seoul final week to wish for peace forward of the DMZ summit assembly. Opinion polls present 9 out of 10 South Koreans view Mr. Moon’s talks with Mr. Kim as a hit.

Greg Baker/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

He has intently consulted with the White House throughout the present rush of diplomacy. Mr. Moon has additionally been cautious in public to credit Mr. Trump for making the present breakthroughs doable, saying that he deserves a Nobel Peace Prize.

The want to herald America additionally displays hard-earned home political classes. Mr. Moon noticed Mr. Roh and Kim Dae-jung, the 2 presidents who championed what was referred to as the Sunshine Policy of engagement with North Korea, fail because the North endured in its weapons applications regardless of beneficiant assist.

Both died heartbroken males, with their legacy dismantled by their conservative foes, who ridiculed them as naïve and pro-North Korean.

“One thing South Korea has learned is that it cannot improve ties with North Korea without progress in denuclearizing North Korea,” stated Kim Yong-hyun, a professor of North Korean research at Dongguk University in Seoul. Otherwise, he stated, any deal “would be like building a house of cards.”

During his assembly with Mr. Kim at Panmunjom, Mr. Moon’s highest precedence seemed to be convincing the younger North Korean dictator that he may create a greater future by putting a take care of Washington to rebuild his nation’s economic system in alternate for giving up his nuclear arsenal.

Despite the spectacle of the 2 Korean leaders leisurely holding arms as they stepped throughout their nations’ border, Mr. Moon and his aides in contrast his mission to “walking on this ice,” and urged Mr. Kim to shortly signal and implement a deal whereas he and Mr. Trump have been in workplace.

“I am still in the first year of my term,” Mr. Moon instructed Mr. Kim throughout their assembly. “I hope we can maintain this speed through my term.”

Mr. Moon’s rush for an early deal is rooted in previous experiences.

In 1994, North Korea and the United States reached their first of many agreements on dismantling the North’s nuclear program, then in its very early phases. Washington supplied vitality assist and guarantees of normalizing diplomatic and financial relations, however the accord unraveled after the United States dragged its toes as a result of it didn’t anticipate the North Korean authorities to outlive long gone the collapse of the Soviet Union.


Pictures of Mr. Kim and Mr. Moon beamed onto the Peace House throughout a closing ceremony on the finish of their summit in Panmunjom.

Pool photograph

North Korea additionally hedged its bets, secretly holding a program to complement uranium so it may in the future construct its personal atomic bombs.

In 2000, President Kim Dae-jung, the initiator of the Sunshine Policy, flew to Pyongyang to satisfy with Kim Jong-il, ushering in a interval of détente that appeared to vow an finish to hostilities on the peninsula. Investment and commerce flourished, and households separated by the battle have been allowed to carry reunions.

Kim Jong-il despatched his trusted aide, Vice Marshal Jo Myong-rok, to the White House to ask President Bill Clinton to go to Pyongyang. However, Mr. Clinton determined he couldn’t try so daring a diplomatic transfer on the finish of his time in workplace, and as an alternative despatched his secretary of state, Madeleine Albright.

The new opening with Washington closed after Mr. Bush took workplace in 2001. North Korea carried out its first nuclear check in 2006.

“After he stepped down, President Clinton visited Seoul and told President Kim Dae-jung how regrettable it was; he said if he had a little bit more time in office, he could have changed the course of the Korean Peninsula,” stated Lim Dong-won, a former aide to Mr. Kim, who attended the assembly.

Mr. Roh, who changed Kim Dae-jung, tried to maintain the détente alive along with his 2007 settlement on easing army tensions and growing financial cooperation. But the deal, signed 4 months earlier than Mr. Roh’s time period ended, was shortly overturned by Mr. Roh’s conservative successor, Lee Myong-bak.

Mr. Lee was desperate to align himself with Mr. Bush, who sought to isolate the North with sanctions within the hopes it might give up its nuclear weapons program, a method continued by President Barack Obama.

So far, Mr. Moon’s gambit appears to be successful broad assist inside South Korea. Opinion polls present his approval rankings surging, with some 9 out of 10 South Koreans viewing the DMZ assembly as a hit.

Not all South Koreans are satisfied, nevertheless.

Hong Joon-pyo, chief of the primary conservative opposition Korean Liberty Party, likened Mr. Moon to former Prime Minister Arthur Neville Chamberlain of Britain, who he stated fell into Hitler’s “trap of false peace.”

“After being cheated eight times, did he still think for a ninth time that North Korea would not cheat this time?” Mr. Hong stated.

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