Abu Dhabi: Abraham Accords proves that decades-long disputes can be solved through negotiations, which could be possible in the Korean peace process as well, South Korea’s top diplomat has said.
“I think looking at the breakthrough here with Abraham Accords, you realise how with bold decision making, you can really make big changes. We have also a challenge to bring about enduring peace and complete denuclearisation on the Korean peninsula, with North Korea,” said Kang Kyung-wha, Korean Minister of Foreign Affairs.
In an interview in Abu Dhabi during her two-day official visit to the UAE, she expressed her hope that the Korean peace process would succeed one day, referring to the lengthy unsuccessful efforts to forge a comprehensive peace treaty between South Korea and North Korea after the 1950-53 Korean War.
Stalemate in negotiations
“With the change of administration in the United States, we are preparing to work very closely with the new US administration to strategise how we can bring North Korea back to the table for dialogue and negotiations,” revealed Kang who became the foreign minister in June 2017.
“We have pursued this goal for the past three-and-half years. Things are stuck at this point because North Korea has seized engagement with us or the United States for over a year now,” she said, adding that North Korea has been less willing to engage since COVID-19 outbreak as they were busy dealing with the pandemic.
The fact is that in 2018 the top leaders of South Korea, North Korea and the United States committed to these goals very publicly after a series of summits, and so that they complete denuclearisation and bring about lasting peace on the Korean Peninsula, Kang noted.
The framework that defines relations between North Korea and South Korea is an armistice. “That is 70 years old. It is a very fragile peace. So, we want to start a process to replace that armistice with a full peace agreement between South Korea and North Korea and others who had signed on to the armistice.”
The top diplomat was referring to the armistice signed on 27th July 1953 after the Korean War. Military commanders from China and North Korea signed the agreement on one side, with the US-led United Nations Command signing on behalf of the international community. It was intended as a temporary measure until achieving a final peaceful settlement, but no peace treaty was signed as of now.
“It’s a huge undertaking, but we’re committed to working towards that goal through dialogue and negotiations,” the minister stressed.
Optimistic about peace
She expressed hope that North Korea will come to the dialogue table. “North Korea has to engage with the international community to get itself on the trajectory towards economic development.”
“Currently it is under a very heavy sanctioned regime. Now with the COVID-19 challenge, it is not a sustainable situation in the long run. So, it would be in its self-interest to come back to the dialogue table,” she added.
Asked whether she is confident that denuclearisation of the peninsula and a full-fledged peace agreement with North Korea would be possible, she said with an optimistic smile, “Anything is possible, it just takes a lot of work and patience.”
Kang has done her PhD in Communication at the University of Massachusetts in the US. In her early career, she had worked as an associate professor in the US and Korea, and later held various senior positions in the Korean government, before occupying the top diplomat’s job.
During her visit to the UAE, she met with Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, and reviewed the prospects of fostering cooperation in areas of health, education, technology and investment.
The minister reached the UAE after attending Manama Dialogue, a high-level forum to debate the Middle East’s most pressing security challenges, which took place in Bahrain from 4th to 6th December.
“It is the first ever time that the foreign minister of the Republic of Korea was invited to the Manama Dialogue and I take it as an indication of the growing importance that the countries of the Middle East region place upon the Republic of Korea and their ties with us,” Kang said.
“I was very happy to talk to some key players in this region, certainly the Bahraini foreign minister, the Saudi foreign minister and many other foreign ministers at a time when exciting things are happening with the Abraham Accords,” she added.
“Hats off to the UAE and Bahrain for that bold decision. I think that it changes the political dynamics in this region a great deal,” the minister emphasised.
As a foreign minister and a veteran diplomat, she is happy about the developments. “Diplomacy is about building relations from difficult situations. This accord is a breakthrough from decades of tension and animosity. From there to move towards normalised relations with Israel is a diplomatic breakthrough. So, I have to certainly applaud the UAE and Bahrain.”
Kang continued, “It can only help strengthen stability and peace in this region. And this is a very important region for us, very important economic partners and very important source of our energy needs. Therefore, these important partners moving towards strength, stability and peace is only good news.”
The minister hopes that this will lead to a positive momentum to resolve the longstanding conflict between Israel and Palestine, and “towards an independent Palestine state based upon the two-state model. And we very much hope that this change creates the positive dynamic towards that end.”
Asked about the possible joint economic initiatives or projects between Korea, UAE and Israel, she said, “That would be beyond my specialty [as foreign minister], I think. But certainly we have close economic relations with Israel and the UAE, so I’m sure there can be areas of convergence where we can complement each other, but I would let my minister of industry and business deal with that part.”