On April 27, North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un and the South Korean president Moon Jae-in is will meet for a historic peace summit scheduled to take place in the De-Militarized Zone between the countries. It will be the first time a North Korean leader has visited South Korea since the Korean War and the third time that a North and South Korean leader meet since 1953. Their meeting will be broadcasted live and over 2800 journalists – a record-breaking number – will cover the event. A joint statement will be released at the end of the summit, following a welcoming ceremony, banquet dinner and meeting between the leaders. The stakes at the summit are high as it potentially could begin a peace process, or worsen the situation, depending on how it turns out.
The potential de-nuclearization of North Korea, as well as steps towards peace will be on the agenda on Friday. It follows a time of intense and rapid developments between the U.S., North and South Korea. It was the Winter Olympic games hosted by South Korea in February that became the turning point for inter-Korean relations after months of heightened tension. The two Koreas marched under a unified flag and since then, the situation has increasingly brightened. North Korean relations with the U.S. – that recently were in a disastrous state – are starting to warm up as well, and the first meeting between a U.S. president and North-Korean leader to ever take place is scheduled in the coming weeks. The meeting between North Korea and the U.S. will be dependent on how Friday’s meeting turns out.
Right now, the sides are working to fully prepare for the summit and South Korea recently stopped their blasting of propaganda at the North-Korean border in order to ease tensions between them. While some are more skeptical than others, saying that the two previous summits since 1953 have failed, many believe that there finally might be hope for peaceful relations between the two Koreas after almost 70 years of hostility.
If that is the case, the world might finally see an official end to the Korean War that started in 1950 when the communist-led North attacked the U.S.-backed South. The fighting ended in 1953 with an armistice and since then there has been a permanent cease-fire between the countries. Since an official peace treaty is yet to be signed, the war formally never ended. However, such a peace treaty would be complicated to reach as it would require many comprises. Both sides claim themselves to be the only legitimate government on the Korean Penninsula which would become a major obstacle to an eventual peace resolution.
Yet there is a willingness from both sides to fully consider an establishment of peace, as South Korea declared earlier this month. Therefore, a peace statement is possible, but the situation will not be resolved over-night. Instead, it would likely be the beginning of a longer peace process, although it is still unclear what a peace solution would entail. There has also been argued that true peace talks only are possible if other countries involved in the war will attend it.
Regarding the prospects for a de-nuclearization, Kim Jong Un has claimed that it is possible if the government’s security is guaranteed. According to president Moon, North Korea will no longer demand that the U.S. withdraw their troops from the region in order to de-nuclearize. Some experts say that North Korea will set the condition for the U.S. to remove their ability to use nuclear weapons against North Korea from the south, while others say that it is unlikely that they will fully de-nuclearize altogether. They might disclose parts of their nuclear weapon program to the U.S., but it is unlikely that they will disclose all of it. Steps towards de-nuclearization would likely be motivated by the hope that the U.S. will ease their economic sanctions against the North which otherwise could damage their economy in the long term. Nevertheless, the summit will likely make at least some progress towards de-nuclearization.
President Moon, who has worked hard towards diplomatic progress between the Koreas, will face his biggest challenge so far as a president on Friday. The summit could either become his biggest success or failure. Regardless of whether the summit proves itself to be productive or not, the fact that it takes place is a large step forward from the past. Both the North and South have expressed their willingness to normalize their relations which provides hope for the future, as it could be the start of a longer dialogue between the two Koreas. Right now, the world can only wait with a combination of optimism and fear to see how the events on Friday will unravel.