The Korean War began on June 25, 1950 and is “technically” still ongoing in the absence of a validated peace treaty—although, the fighting was ended with the signing of an armistice by North Korea, China and the US (South Korea was not a signatory) on July 27, 1953.
This is how General Douglas MacArthur described it to the US Congress back in 1951: “The war in Korea... almost destroyed that nation of 20 million people. I have never seen such devastation. I have seen, I guess, as much blood and disaster as any living man, and it just curled my stomach, the last time I was there.” And this is what Curtis LeMay, who went on to head the US Strategic Air Command, wrote: “We burned down just about every city in North Korea and South Korea both...we killed off over a million civilian Koreans and drove several millions from their homes, with the inevitable additional tragedies bound to ensue.”
With such calamities engraved into the history of the two Koreas and the lives and memories of all Koreans, it was always going to take some exceptional courage, among other things, to reduce the tension on the Korean Peninsula that for so long threatened a much larger, perhaps, nuclear war even. And that is what it took over the last few months of negotiations, which ultimately culminated in a North Korean leader walking across the border separating North from South for the first time since the war in the early 1950s.
Although stakeholders from all sides have expressed caution when asked about long-term peace, the massive turnaround concerning the situation on the Korean Peninsula is extremely encouraging for a world that desperately wants peace to prevail, having witnessed one war after another. But what has surprised many is that till January this year (and even beyond that to some extent), US officials and think-tank analysts were saying that since Kim Jong-Un's main purpose for acquiring nuclear missiles was to get the US to withdraw its troops from the Korean Peninsula, and to force a reunification with the South under its own terms, negotiations were bound to fail.
After months of tough public exchanges with his US counterpart, however, Kim Jong-Un suddenly made an announcement on April 21 that he had suspended all nuclear, intermediate-range, and ICBM missile tests, was going to close his only nuclear-testing site in the near future and was seeking to “make positive contributions to the building of the world free from nuclear weapons.” This turn of events was followed by the even more historic face-to-face meeting between the leaders of North and South Koreas on April 27, where they signed the “Panmunjeom Declaration for Peace, Prosperity and Unification of the Korean Peninsula.”
The declaration said that, “South and North Korea will actively cooperate to establish a permanent and solid peace regime on the Korean Peninsula.” But even more importantly: “During this year that marks the 65th anniversary of the Armistice, South and North Korea [have] agreed to actively pursue trilateral meetings involving the two Koreas and the United States, or quadrilateral meetings involving the two Koreas, the United States and China with a view to declaring an end to the war and establishing a permanent and solid peace regime”—which many did, and still are, dismissing as fantasy, perhaps because they see this shift to have happened too suddenly. But that should not have been the case had they followed recent events more closely and beyond the more popular topics of discussion in the media. Let me explain.
Last week, the White House revealed the stunning news that the then CIA director Mike Pompeo had flown to North Korea over the Easter weekend and met face-to-face with Kim Jong-Un. This was key. This meeting was the result of a series of bilateral meetings between North and South Korea's officials, which really should have given it away.
The National Intelligence Service (NIS) of South Korea is known for its extremely close and extensive ties with the CIA. Prior to, and during the course of the Winter Olympics, several key bilateral meetings were held between national security and intelligence officials of North and South Korea, as mentioned—led by South Korean President Moon Jae-in's National Security Adviser Chung Eui-yong on the South Korean side. The reason why NIS' close ties with the CIA and Chung Eui-yong's involvement are so important to mention is because such high level bilateral meetings would not have been agreed to by South Korea, without prior consultation with (and either encouragement or approval of) the US.
And since it was these meetings that later set the stage for Pompeo's secretive North Korean visit, all indications suggest that these meetings were received quite positively by both sides. So, while the two sides postured for over months (which the media was busy covering), negotiations were not only ongoing, but they seem to have progressed relatively well—as evidenced more clearly now by the recent face-to-face meeting between the two Korean leaders.
Not only that, during US President Donald Trump and German Chancellor Angela Merkel's joint press conference earlier this week, one reporter asked whether Trump had already spoken to Kim Jong-Un directly, to which he replied, “I'm not going to comment on that,” effectively saying, “yes”, he did. While all these are very good signs for the future of Korea and the rest of the world, let us not forget one very important thing.
That, which journalist Stephen Lendman, like many others, had pointed out when he wrote, “Neocon hardliners infesting Washington may” still look to “undermine” the peace process, which is why peace is, even now, far from being achieved. Although true, as the “war party” in Washington has been a constant problem for any deal towards peace that the US has been involved in over the past decade (if not longer), having witnessed so many unprecedented gestures from all sides that they want peace, should we, at least, not be a little more hopeful to the prospect of long lasting peace on the Korean Peninsula this time?
Eresh Omar Jamal is a member of the editorial team at The Daily Star. His Twitter handle is: @EreshOmarJamal