A South Korean soldier (center) stands guard at the truce village of Panmunjom inside the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) separating the two Koreas on August 28, 2019. (KIM HONG-JI / POOL / AFP)
SEOUL – In a last-ditch attempt to restart talks with the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea before his term ends next year, the Republic of Korea’s President Moon Jae-in is calling for a declaration that could eventually end a state of war that has technically lasted since the 1950s.
The ROK and a US-led UN force are technically still at war with the DPRK since the 1950-1953 Korean War ended in an armistice rather than a peace treaty, and Seoul sees an "end of war declaration" as a way to build trust, restart stalled denuclearization talks, and eventually secure a lasting peace agreement.
In 1953, ROK leaders opposed the idea of a truce that left the peninsula divided, and were not signatories to the armistice.
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The idea of ending the war gained renewed attention in 2018 during a flurry of diplomacy between DPRK leader Kim Jong-un, then-US President Donald Trump, and ROK President Moon.
In a UN speech last month, ROK leader again raised the idea. DPRK officials responded that Moon's proposals were of interest, but premature without a change in what they deemed to be hostile policies
The two Koreas agreed to declare the Korean War over by the end of that year, and Trump said the effort had his blessing if the DPRK agreed to give up its nuclear arsenal. But as disagreements over the DPRK’s nuclear weapons and international sanctions dragged on, Washington and Pyongyang showed less interest and the idea stalled along with nearly all talks.
PROSPECTS FOR A DEAL
In a speech at the United Nations last month, Moon again raised the idea. DPRK officials responded that Moon's proposals were of interest, but premature without a change in what they deemed to be hostile policies.
US President Joe Biden's administration has said it is open to negotiations without preconditions. The DPRK has rebuffed those overtures, saying that US support for sanctions and military moves in the region suggest its talk of diplomacy hides hostile intent.
"To be effective, (a declaration) needs to be embedded in a broader process," said John Delury, a professor at the ROK’s Yonsei University. "But signaling readiness for an end of war declaration is, at minimum, a way for the Biden administration to signal they are serious about ending the so-called hostile policy."
When asked about ROK proposals, White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan this week declined to comment on specifics. He said that the US agreed with the ROK on the need for diplomacy, but may have a different perspective when it comes to the timing, conditions, or sequence of different steps.
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Some analysts note that a deal could have implications for the roughly 28,500 US troops and the UN command stationed in the ROK as a legacy of the war, which help secure the Demilitarized Zone between the two Koreas.