It would seem that strong voices around the world are coming out in some of the most forward condemnation of North Korea following the death of detained American tourist, Otto Warmbier. Of course, Kim Jong Un’s neighbor to the south was bound to weigh in on the matter as well, but South Korea’s response may raise some eyebrows. In a recent interview, South Korean President Moon Jae-in condemned North Korea for the death of Warmbier, but also expressed a desire to re-open negotiations between North and South Korea for the effort of ceasing North Korea’s nuclear program.
The interview took place between President Moon Jae-in and CBS This Morning co-host Norah O’Donnell. In the interview, Jae-in expressed condolences to the Warmbier family and stressed that North Korea carries a “heavy responsibility” for the death of Otto Warmbier. The conversation turned interesting when President Jae-in began talking about national and international interest in dismantling the North Korean nuclear program, and he expressed an interest in re-opening dialogue with leaders in Pyongyang as one of several steps to accomplishing that goal.
Otto Warmbier passed away on June 19 after being returned home to the United States. Warmbier was in North Korea as a tourist and was detained after allegedly taking down a piece of propaganda that was posted in his hotel room. Warmbier was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor, but he was evacuated from the country after 17 months and returned to his family in Ohio. He appeared to have suffered some kind of brain damage during his captivity and was left in a comatose state until his death.
In the wake of the events, many political voices have spoken out against North Korea for Otto Warmbier’s death. United States President Donald Trump condemned the “North Korean regime,” stating that it had claimed its “latest victim” in his statement on the matter. Meanwhile, Senator John McCain, who was once, himself, imprisoned in North Vietnam, spoke out harshly against North Korea. McCain was not shy about calling Warmbier’s death a murder at the hands of Kim Jong-un’s government.
All of this builds upon a growing concern about constant nuclear weapons development and testing in North Korea. South Korean President Moon Jai-in certainly has a vested interest in stopping a North Korean nuclear program. Seoul is only a handful of kilometers beyond the North Korean border, and North Korean weapon batteries remain trained upon the South Korean capital at all times. That said, ties between North Korea and South Korea have been tense for decades. It is difficult to say when the last time was that a South Korean leader and his neighboring head of state might have been in the same room to speak.
Jae-in expressed the sentiment that he would not treat such a negotiation lightly either, despite insisting that such a dialogue is necessary. In his interview with O’Donnell, the South Korean President called his North Korean counterpart “an irrational regime.”
“I believe we must now have the perception that North Korea is an irrational regime. Working with such a country, we must achieve the goal of the complete dismantlement of North Korea’s nuclear program… I believe that dialogue is necessary. We were unable to resolve the North Korean nuclear issue through only the sanctions and pressure.”
When pressed on the matter of whether he believed Donald Trump would support him in opening negotiations with Kim Jong-un, Jae-in expressed that he believed President Trump would support him.
“I believe that my position is not at odds with the policy of the United States or that of President Trump. It seems to me that President Trump has criticized the failed former policies of his predecessor administrations. And on that point, I have the same view as President Trump.”
Whether or not Trump will support Jae-in’s desires or not remains to be seen. He is set to meet with President Trump soon, and the matter of North Korea’s nuclear program will undoubtedly come up. Only time will tell what comes of the meeting between Trump and Jae-in. That said, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that Jae-in may also see Otto Warmbier’s death as an opportunity to coax the United States into a more decisive role in dealing with the threat Kim Jong-un poses. Either way, the South Korean President has put negotiations with North Korea on the table.
[Featured Image by Kim Min-Hee-Pool/Getty Images]