In a New Year’s Day speech, President of North Korea Kim Jong Un stated, “I have a nuclear button on my desk. This is reality, not a threat.” A nuclearized North Korea has complicated efforts for peace with its southern neighbour, South Korea, and with the United States. Since it began nuclear testing, productive conversation between the Koreas has ceased. Additionally, the UN Security Council has responded to North Korea’s nuclear threats by implementing new, U.S.-drafted sanctions. These sanctions were meant to keep a tight grip on the flow of supplies and workers into or out of the country.
In response to Kim Jong Un’s inflammatory statement, U.S. President Trump tweeted, “I have a Nuclear Button, but it is a much bigger & more powerful one than his, and my Button works!” In the same tweet, Trump called the regime “depleted and food-starved,” pointing out underlying issues faced by Kim Jong Un in his country.
While the statements from Kim Jong Un and Donald Trump create a bleak outlook for peace, there have also been recent strides to foster communication. According to South Korean Unification Ministry Spokesman Baik Taehyun, North Korea has accepted Seoul’s offer to initiate talks. The talks will be held on Tuesday at the Peace House in Panmunjom, located in the Demilitarized Zone. These talks mark the first high-level contact between the neighbouring countries in over two years, and will focus on the Pyeongchang Olympics. Two North Korean figure skaters, Rym Tae-Ok and Kim Ju-Sik, have qualified for the games that will be held in South Korea. While the inclusion of these athletes has inspired the meeting, Kim has also expressed an interest in resolving the extended conflict with South Korea, according to CNN.
The last example of high-level talks between the two nations was a deputy ministerial meeting in December 2015 at the Kaesong Industrial Centre. Located in North Korea near the two countries’ border, this complex was jointly run and served as a place for commerce of both nations. South Korea abandoned the complex and rescinded its workers when Kim Jong Un intensified his nuclear stance last year.
So why the sudden swing in the feelings on cooperation? According to Los Angeles Times, President Moon of South Korea is a liberal leader who seeks to defy the skepticism in his country aimed at the North’s “conciliatory gestures.” Moon, who was elected less than a year ago, may prioritize peace, contradicting his conservative predecessor. Donald Trump, on the other hand, believes that he is the driving factor behind the talks. In another tweet, Trump references “sanctions and ‘other’ pressures” as important factors in Kim’s political decisions. According to CNN, economic factors are likely driving cooperation, which have been caused partially by Trump’s sanctions and partially by a drought. Additionally, the U.S. agreed to postpone joint military drills in South Korea, which have typically angered the North. This decision may have encouraged Kim’s cooperation.
Whatever the motivations may be, the talks on Tuesday will be an important step towards peace on the Korean peninsula. While rhetoric from Kim Jong Un and Donald Trump may sound instigating, efforts for cooperation can possibly put out the fire. Threats of nuclear war from world leaders are concerning, but these groundbreaking talks may be the onset of denuclearization and peace.
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