SEOUL, President Moon Jae-in will likely face an uphill battle of denuclearizing North Korea when he meets North Korean leader Kim Jong-un later this month, an achievement that he said would mark a new chapter in history.
However, he may already be fighting an increasingly difficult battle, and on the domestic front, of keeping expectations in check.
"The president is still very cautious, and what he said over the past couple of days shows how he is trying to calm things down," an official from the presidential office Cheong Wa Dae said, while speaking on condition of anonymity.
On Wednesday, the president called for restraints.
"I ask you to work with the goal of laying a strong stepping stone for restoring the South-North relationship and ensuring peace and prosperity on the Korean Peninsula through the upcoming summit rather than working with too great a desire to resolve all problems at once," he said while meeting with a special committee headed by his chief of staff Im Jong-seok, preparing for Moon's summit with Kim on April 27.
Such caution follows recent reports at home and abroad on the possible outcome of the inter-Korean summit. While the Moon-Kim meeting, along with a separate summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and the North Korean leader set to follow, will be historical events, it is widely expected to mark the start of ridding the communist North of its nuclear weapons.
Moon too apparently sees his and Trump's upcoming summits with Kim as events with no parallels in history but says they will certainly not be the end.
"The North-U.S. summit will have a great meaning in the world's history in being held itself," he told the preparation committee meeting, adding they were only standing at the starting line of what he called a "long journey" toward peace and prosperity.
"It is a goal dreamt by everyone but realized by no one. We need extraordinary determination and confidence to go beyond division and confrontation and write a new history," he added.
History has proven Moon's point over and over.
The U.S. and North Korea signed the Agreed Framework in 1994 under which Pyongyang agreed to freeze its nuclear activities in exchange for international energy aid. But it fell through in 2002 as the U.S. uncovered the North's highly enriched uranium program, and the George W. Bush administration refused to implement energy assistance.
The North withdrew from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty in 2003, prompting the start of the six-party denuclearization talks involving the two Koreas, the U.S., Japan, China and Russia.
The major agreements under the multilateral talks in 2005 and 2007 also collapsed amid differences over the goals and process of denuclearization and the North's continued provocations. The six-party negotiations have stalled since late 2008.
Moon has said the current conditions are far worse than they were 10 years ago.
"We have the experience of holding two South-North summits ... and were able to push for the upcoming summit because of such experience and results. But the current situation is more serious than at any other time in the past. Military tension has found a new peak, while South-North relations remained ruptured over the past 10 years with North Korea's nuclear and missile technologies advancing to a point where even the U.S. feels threatened," he said while meeting with his special advisers for the inter-Korean summit Thursday.
The Cheong Wa Dae official assured the president was fully intent on making as much progress as possible toward the denuclearization of North Korea when he meets its leader Kim.
"He is just concerned that hoping to get too much too soon may make any progress seem like a failure despite the little progress being a necessary step toward the goal of complete and verifiable denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula," he said.
"And he is especially concerned that such disappointment may hinder future dialogue with North Korea, again despite such dialogue being a necessary step toward denuclearization."
Source: Yonhap News Agency