South Korean peace efforts look 'out of sync' with elimination of North Korean nukes

While that won’t greatly affect Washington’s efforts to pressure North Korea, U.S.-South Korea relations could grow more tense in the future, Kim continued.

More than half of South Korean university students believe unification is necessary, according to a government survey conducted in early November.

Moon’s focus on reconciliation could “obviate the U.S. focus on nukes and missiles,” Pusan National University Professor Robert Kelly said in a new note published on the Lowy Institute. “If North Korea is a partner for peace and relations improve, then its nuclear weapons matter less.”

South Korea’s presidential office has not yet responded to CNBC’s request for comment.

There’s another less-discussed reason for Seoul’s prioritization of unification, according to Kelly: “The hope that the North’s nuclear weapons will fall into the hands of a unified Korean state.”

If Moon’s goal of reconciliation works, it could eventually produce a unified Korea, said Kelly. Under that scenario, “the assets of the two Korean states would increasingly be shared,” which could see a unified Korea inheriting the North’s nuclear program, the academic wrote.

To many South Koreans however, those arguments don’t reflect the realities of Moon’s government.

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