Seoul aims to formally declare Korean War over by year end

South Korea’s chief delegate Jeon Choong Ryul (right) with North Korean counterpart Won Kil U during talks at Panmunjom yesterday on forming unified teams for the Asian Games. Seoul has said sanctions on Pyongyang could be eased once it takes “su
South Korea’s chief delegate Jeon Choong Ryul (right) with North Korean counterpart Won Kil U during talks at Panmunjom yesterday on forming unified teams for the Asian Games. Seoul has said sanctions on Pyongyang could be eased once it takes “substantive steps towards denuclearisation”. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung Wha
South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung Wha

SEOUL • South Korea aims to declare a formal end to the Korean War by the end of this year, and the leaders of North Korea and the United States have discussed the issue, media reports quoted the country's Foreign Minister as saying.

Ms Kang Kyung Wha also told reporters yesterday that sanctions against North Korea could be eased once it takes "substantive steps towards denuclearisation", seemingly setting the bar lower than Washington for such a move, the reports said.

"(We) are in close consultations with the US on this field (formal declaration to end the Korean War). And I know that there was (relevant) discussion at the North Korea-US summit level," Ms Kang said, referring to last week's meeting in Singapore between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and US President Donald Trump, at a press conference to mark her first anniversary in office.

Mr Trump and Mr Kim signed a four-point joint statement on denuclearisation and improved relations between the two sides that had fought each other in the 1950-53 Korean War. But the agreement did not address ending the war.

The conflict was halted by an armistice agreement, and not a peace treaty, leaving the two Koreas technically at war.

Ms Kang described the declaration of an end to the war, which also involved the US and China, as the "entrance" to a process to establish a peace regime on the peninsula, reported Yonhap news agency.

DISCUSSIONS WITH U.S.

(We) are in close consultations with the US on this field (formal declaration to end the Korean War). And I know that there was (relevant) discussion at the North Korea-US summit level.

SOUTH KOREAN FOREIGN MINISTER KANG KYUNG WHA

South Korean President Moon Jae In's administration apparently hopes to have a ceremony to terminate the war at the border village of Panmunjom on July 27, the anniversary of the armistice agreement, Yonhap said.

Ms Kang said, however, that Seoul could be flexible on the specific timing or format of an event for the largely symbolic proclamation.

"I think China could play a very important role in the overall process, and South Korea will have close consultations with China," she was quoted by Yonhap as saying.

Last week's Trump-Kim summit produced only a vague statement in which Mr Kim, who is Chairman of the State Affairs Commission, "reaffirmed his firm and unwavering commitment to complete denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula".

Amid fears that the summit would weaken the international coalition against the North's nuclear programme, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo stressed after the June 12 meeting that sanctions would remain in place until North Korea's complete denuclearisation.

But his South Korean counterpart suggested yesterday that they could be eased sooner, reported Agence France-Presse (AFP).

"Our stance is that the sanctions must remain in place until North Korea takes meaningful, substantive steps towards denuclearisation," Ms Kang said, according to AFP. Seoul and Washington shared the same "big picture" view and would continue close consultations, she added.

The comments come just days after China's Foreign Ministry suggested that the United Nations Security Council could consider easing the economic punishment of its Cold War-era ally.

Until recently, Mr Trump had pursued a "maximum pressure" campaign - with both China and South Korea on board - of tough rhetoric and tightened sanctions against Pyongyang. But analysts said that the Singapore summit has made it hard for the Trump administration to return to that policy.

Separately yesterday, Russia's RIA news agency said President Vladimir Putin and Mr Moon plan to discuss potential joint projects with North Korea during Mr Moon's visit to Moscow this week.

"We are planning to discuss this subject," Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Igor Morgulov told reporters yesterday, according to RIA.

It has been reported that South Korea's Presidential Committee on Northern Economic Cooperation envisions three economic belts that would link the country's industrial heartland with the North, and then with China and Russia.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 19, 2018, with the headline 'Seoul aims to formally declare Korean War over by year end'. Print Edition | Subscribe