The New York Times website this morning is leading with Moon Jae-in’s comments to Korean newspaper publishers that Kim Jong Un is willing to let the U.S. keep a military presence in South Korea, or let South Korea keep U.S. troops, however you want to look at it. The Times’ Choe Sang-hun points out several times when North Korea has said something similar in the past, notably when Kim Jong Il said it to Lim Dong-won, the point main for South Korean President Kim Dae-jung in arranging the first inter-Korean summit in 2000. And the issue of the U.S. troop presence in South Korea was put off for later stages of negotiating in the Six Party deal of early 2007.
Moon is in full hype mode. Even his promotion of creating a peace agreement between the two Koreas is easily picked apart. For starters, he would have to change South Korea’s constitution to recognize the North as a separate country. Andy Salmon dissected other problems with Andrei Lankov and Dan Pinkston.
On the troop presence, Moon faces a whole other layer of domestic challenges. Bob Carlin unpacked them on 38 North a couple weeks ago.
Will Moon’s hype and statements about North Korea’s plans cause Kim Jong Un to do something he doesn’t want to? I doubt it. Moon seems intent on creating the impression that big things are about to happen and a lot is going to be accomplished. President Trump has added to this impression at times and backed away at others, as he did yesterday by commenting he is willing to walk out of talks with Kim if they are not fruitful.
I expect Moon and the South Koreans to keep driving up the hype over the next eight days up to the May 27 inter-Korean summit. Kim could crash it all down at that meeting, though.
Oddly enough, the 2007 inter-Korean summit that Moon helped stage for then President Roh Moo-hyun didn’t have this level of buildup. A Roh adviser several days before that summit told foreign reporters they had no big expectations. They came out with a “deal” list that mostly involved things South Korea would do for North Korea. Years later, transcripts would emerge that showed Roh compromised mightily on the West Sea (Yellow Sea) border the South defends against the North.