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Give Korean peace a chance

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13th-May-2018       
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Ramon Pacheco Pardo :
A successful inter-Korean summit is now over. The planned meeting between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un should take place in the coming weeks. Japan and North Korea are also discussing their own summit.
Let's start with today's summit. Not only was the inter-Korean summit the first in over a decade; it was also carefully designed to pave the way for engagement leading to eventual peace.
In recent weeks, South Korean President Moon Jae-in touched all the right notes. He has stated that North Korea's denuclearization is central to Korean Peninsula affairs.
President Moon has also indicated that inter-Korean rapprochement can only proceed in parallel with an improvement in US-North Korea and Japan-North Korea relations, while sanctions on Pyongyang will remain in place until substantial progress towards North Korean denuclearization has happened. But we should make no mistake. South Korea's strategy has engagement upfront. Seoul sees peace and improved inter-Korean relations as the end result of the rapprochement process in place since January. North Korea appears to be onboard.
The joint statement published today formally commits Pyongyang to a peace process. We can expect Seoul to continue to pursue engagement in the coming months and years to make this happen. And the EU can - and should - play a pivotal role in support of its strategic partners.
To begin with, Brussels should act as a guarantor of the agreements involving Pyongyang that are due to follow in the coming weeks and months. The main advantage of the consensus-based model that the EU follows when on key foreign policy decisions is that it underscores the commitment of member states. Take the Iranian nuclear deal. When the EU and key member states signed up to it, they meant it. Thus, the Trump's administration decision to first withdraw from, and now - it seems - renegotiate the agreement, has met with strong resistance across Europe. The EU is committed to the deal, and is willing to confront even the US in its defence. The same would be the case were the EU to decide to support any agreement signed by Pyongyang.
Third parties generally acknowledge this commitment as one of the EU's strengths. Pyongyang is no exception. In private and through multiple channels, North Korea has indicated its trust that the EU will keep any commitment it might make. The same cannot be said of the Trump administration. The EU's commitment will be crucial as the process of bringing peace to the Korean Peninsula will invariably go through ups and downs. The EU can also act as a facilitator of dialogue with North Korea. More official summits and meetings with Pyongyang will be needed in the coming months and years. Several member states have embassies in Pyongyang, and the likes of Sweden and Finland have hosted meetings involving North Korea, including in recent weeks.
The European Parliament has been holding a semi-secretive dialogue with Pyongyang over the past few years.  The EU has the credibility to act as an impartial host and voice in any engagement process involving the Kim Jong-un regime. Pyongyang certainly thinks so.
Also crucial will be Brussels' role in supporting economic reform in North Korea. If Pyongyang is to move towards denuclearization and the inter-Korean peace process is to be successful, the Kim regime will ask for help in reforming its economy in return.
(Dr Ramon Pacheco Pardo is KF-VUB Korea Chair at the Institute for European Studies of Vrije Universiteit Brussel and Senior Lecturer in International Relations at King's College London).

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