South Korea plays down hopes for peace declaration at Trump-Kim Summit

Students hold Korean Unification Flags during a pro-unification rally in Seoul, South Korea, on April 26, 2018.
Students hold Korean Unification Flags during a pro-unification rally in Seoul, South Korea, on April 26, 2018.PHOTO: REUTERS

SEOUL - South Korea is playing down the likelihood of an imminent peace declaration after President Donald Trump suggested that he could declare an end to the Korean War at his summit with Mr Kim Jong Un on June 12.

South Korea's presidential office Cheong Wa Dae on Tuesday (June 5) welcomed the announcement a day earlier that the summit will begin at 9am Singapore time on June 12, but it appeared to signal that a peace declaration will not be inked next week, saying that such a move will depend on the success of the US-North Korea summit.

"Additional issues, such as a declaration of an end to the war, will be pursued by the South, the North and the United States under close cooperation with the international community after carefully watching the progress in the North Korea-US summit," Cheong Wa Dae said in a statement.

Behind the scenes some officials signalled caution about the prospect of a peace declaration and about what some here have called heated optimism over the possibility for such a declaration at the Singapore meeting, reported the Wall Street Journal.

South Korean representatives declined to comment officially on Monday (June 4), saying only that they were monitoring summit preparations.

The two Koreas technically remain at war as the 1950-53 Korean War ended with an armistice, not a peace treaty.

The armistice was signed by China, North Korea and the United Nations, which was led by the US at the time. South Korea's then president, Syngman Rhee, refused to sign it, as the armistice left the peninsula divided.

Those signatories would need to approve a peace treaty.

South Korean President Moon Jae In, who helped broker the unprecedented US-North Korea summit, has expressed hope the Trump-Kim meeting will lead to a nuclear deal to rid the North of its nuclear ambitions and also a reduction of tension on the Korean Peninsula partly by declaring a formal end to the Korean War.

At his historic meeting with Mr Kim in April, the two Koreas agreed to pursue a treaty this year to end the Korean War-a binding agreement that would go a notch beyond a more-symbolic peace declaration, which they also agreed in April to pursue.

 
 
 
 

But Seoul officials' caution appears due in part to the little time remaining before the June 12 Singapore meeting and expectations that a declaration would be largely symbolic, the WSJ said.

The absence of China from the Singapore summit could be another reason for caution, the report cited analysts as saying.

Though a peace treaty would require China's signature, a peace declaration could be possible without Beijing, as the country isn't at war with either of the Koreas or the US, said Seoul's former unification minister, Chung Dong Young, now a lawmaker.

Avoiding the political embarrassment of another abrupt US withdrawal from the planned summit could also underlie Seoul's caution, said Kim Meen Geon, a professor of political science at Kyung Hee University in Seoul, according to WSJ.

In an editorial last week, North Korean state media appeared to urge the adoption of a peace deal as agreed to at the April inter-Korean summit, saying that North and South should "neither read others' faces nor seek their egotistic interests" but "carry out" agreements signed by Messrs. Moon and Kim.

The Moon administration in the past has floated the idea of a peace declaration and had agreed with Pyongyang in April to pursue trilateral talks involving Washington, and, possibly, quadrilateral talks involving Beijing, with the aim of writing the declaration.

A meeting between President Trump and North Korean General Kim Yong Chol, Mr Kim Jong Un's right-hand man, at the White House last week had renewed hope for a trilateral summit and even the possibility of peace declaration.