The Korean peninsula has been split in two since the Korean War, with the two neighbors taking very different paths.
After years of acrimony and a seemingly constant threat of renewed conflict, the current South Korean President, Park Geun-Hye, has told the press that she would consider the possibility of meeting North Korean counterpart Kim Jong-Un. Her willingness depends on whether a “breakthrough” is made on the issue of North Korea‘s nuclear program, according to AFP.
South Korean President open to talks, sets out conditions
Foreign news agencies were able to submit questions to Park before she responded in writing. She made very clear that her offer of a face-to-face meeting was reliant on many conditions.
“There is no reason not to hold an inter-Korean summit if a breakthrough comes in solving the North Korean nuclear issue and progress is made in improving the South-North relationship,” Park said. “But it will be possible only when the North comes forward for a proactive and sincere dialogue,” she added.
The U.S. maintains a close relationship with South Korea and the two partners regularly engage in joint military exercises near the Korean peninsula. Each year North Korea is angered by the exercises, which it claims are provocative.
Tensions rise between the two Koreas
Politicians in both South Korea and the U.S. maintain that any meaningful discussions with North Korea could only take place if significant progress was made towards denuclearization. Pyongyang has repeatedly rejected the condition.
Tensions between the two neighbors have worsened recently, and at one stage it appeared as though North Korea was preparing for all-out war. Fortunately renewed conflict was avoided and the two sides came to an agreement in August, including a shared commitment to diplomatic talks.
Despite the terms of the agreement there have been no high-level discussions between the two sides, and many analysts do not believe that they will take place. The last summit between the South Korea and North Korea was held in 2007, and another took place in 2000.
South Korea calls for increased pressure from international community
During Park’s time as president there have been some notable successes in international relations. She has conducted high-level talks with North Korea and coordinated reunions of families separated by the Koeran War, but the situation has also been marred by periods of high tension and threats of war from the North.
“North Korea is still honing its nuclear and missile capabilities,” Park said, urging the international community to send a “clear and consistent message” to Pyongyang to cease the development of its nuclear weapons program.
Experts believe that North Korea currently has a small number of nuclear weapons in its arsenal, but it continues to develop more sophisticated missile systems with the aim of being able to strike the U.S. mainland. Estimates vary as to the pace of development of North Korea’s nuclear arsenal, but some analysts believe that Pyongyang could boast as many as 20 nuclear warheads by 2020.
North Korea’s continued nuclear ambitions cause problems
While Washington and Seoul are certainly interested in neutralizing North Korea’s nuclear threat, it seems that the Kim regime believes that it is better off keeping its warheads and remaining in international isolation rather than agreeing to work towards a diplomatic solution. Another problem is the fact that separate geopolitical issues have stolen to attention of U.S. officials and taken the spotlight off the dangers presented by North Korea.
With ongoing conflicts in Ukraine and Syria, in addition to the threat of war with China in the South China Sea, the U.S. is struggling to keep multiple geopolitical plates spinning. South Korea used its time at the UN General Assembly to underline the continued threat of North Korea, but major world powers were more concerned with other issues.
The key to bringing North Korea to the negotiating table is international pressure, and the recent nuclear deal with Iran could provide a blueprint for a similar deal with Tehran. Some commentators believe that Kim can be tempted by economic factors, but others say that an Iran-style deal with North Korea is simply impossible.
One argument is that North Korea has little to gain from the lifting of economic sanctions. Iran has oil to sell and a huge domestic consumer market, whereas North Korea has neither of those resources.
A report from South Korean intelligence agencies claims North Korea is planning a further nuclear test. However Pyongyang risks creating further tension in its relationship with long-term ally China, which is growing increasingly frustrated with Kim’s erratic behavior.
Various analysts have predicted that China could exert pressure on North Korea in order to bring Pyongyang into negotiations, but it might just play into the hands of the U.S. in doing so.