Amid new tension between the two countries, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says the U.S. expects North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to live up to his promise to President Trump to continue his moratorium on missile launches and nuclear tests. (March 15)
WASHINGTON – Fearing an enduring breakdown in the nuclear negotiations with North Korea, South Korea’s president will deliver at an urgent plea to President Donald Trump at the White House on Thursday: Don’t give up on talks with Kim Jong Un.
South Korean leader Moon Jae-in hopes to pitch Trump on a new approach – and possibly a third summit – to bridge the stark differences between the U.S. and North Korea.
“The basic goal of Moon’s trip is to keep the momentum,” said Cheol-Hee Park, an international relations professor at Seoul National University. “He doesn’t want Trump to lose interest or contemplate military action.”
After leaving Washington, Moon will try to “send a signal to Kim Jong Un to say ‘I’m trying’” to keep the negotiations alive, Park added.
Kim could weigh in with a make-or-break message of his own, albeit from 11,000 miles away. Hours before Trump and Moon are scheduled to meet in Washington, Kim’s regime will hold a highly anticipated party meeting in Pyongyang on Thursday. The North Korean dictator could announce that he is abandoning talks with Trump – or that he is still committed to the negotiations.
Trump has not foreclosed the possibility of another meeting with Kim, but he has said North Korea must first take concrete steps toward denuclearization. Administration officials said they expect Moon to ask Trump to pull back some of the sanctions on North Korea, a central flashpoint in the negotiations.
Last month, Trump tried to nix new U.S. Treasury Department sanctions on two Chinese companies accused of helping North Korea skirt United Nations restrictions on the regime’s ability to sell and purchase goods internationally. “President Trump likes Chairman Kim,” spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said at the time, “and he doesn’t think these sanctions will be necessary.”
Accord remains uncertain
Trump eventually backed down amid pushback from his advisers and criticism from outside experts. Whether Trump will be open to Moon’s plea remains to be seen, but the president has continued to speak warmly of his North Korean counterpart, most recently at a Saturday speech to a Republican Jewish Coalition meeting in Las Vegas.
“I can’t tell you what’s going to happen,” Trump said. “I had to walk from the one deal … (it) wasn’t going to be the right deal. But we have a great relationship. We’ll see what happens.”
The fresh flurry of attention on North Korea comes amid growing uncertainty about the fate of Trump’s personal diplomatic push to persuade Kim to end his country’s nuclear weapons program. The Trump-Kim talks collapsed in February after a summit Hanoi failed to produce any agreement.
In Hanoi, Kim offered to dismantle North Korea’s main nuclear facility, Yongbyan, in exchange for major sanctions relief. Trump rejected that, instead pushing Kim to give up North Korea’s entire stockpile of nuclear bombs, missiles and other capabilities, in exchange for full sanctions relief.
The talks ended abruptly, with Trump leaving Vietnam early. In March, a top North Korean official suggested that Kim might quit the talks and restart nuclear and missile tests.
Moon tries to keep talks going
Since then, Moon has been working to convince Kim not to take any provocative steps, according to a senior South Korean government official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the two leaders’ communications.
“Since Hanoi, we’ve been saying ‘You need to calm down. Don’t do anything stupid’,” this official said. “We’re doing a lot of things to prevent North Korea from walking out of this process.”
This official would not confirm whether Moon and Kim have spoken directly since Hanoi but said the South Korean leader has used a variety of channels to get his message across. He also said Trump’s own rhetoric, reaffirming his positive relationship with Kim, has been helpful in sending “positive signals” to the reclusive North Korean leader.
With South Korea’s economy stagnant, Moon faces domestic pressure to produce positive results from the U.S.-North Korea talks. To get those negotiations back on track, Moon’s aides have floated the idea of a comprehensive agreement – but implemented incrementally – aimed at satisfying both Trump and Kim.
That “all for all” agreement would require North Korea to give up its entire weapons arsenal in exchange for full sanctions relief, but in a step-by-step process and over an extended period of time, said Chung-in Moon, a special adviser to President Moon for foreign affairs and national security.
Timetable for N. Korea nuclear dismantling
In interview with USA TODAY and other American journalists last week in Seoul, Moon said that “all-for-all” deal would require both sides to agree to a specific timetable for implementation.
“Obviously the U.S. wants immediate dismantlement” of all of North Korea’s weapons of mass destruction, said Moon. “North Korea might want to have a much more elongated timetable. South Korea might want some kind of compromise middle point.”
North Korea would have to take the first step, he said, perhaps by inviting American nuclear experts into North Korea to verify Kim’s claims that he has demolished most of the Punggye-ri Nuclear Test Site and started dismantling some missile sites.
That kind of “first harvest” from the agreement could help build trust and momentum to execute the rest of the deal, said Moon, who added that he was not speaking on behalf of the Blue House, Seoul’s equivalent of the White House.
He and other South Korean officials noted that Trump called Moon on his flight back to the U.S. from Hanoi and asked the South Korean president to contact Kim and try to persuade him to reconsider a “big deal” approach. Moon’s advisers will be watching Thursday’s meeting in Washington closely, and they said the South Korean president will send an envoy – or go himself – to debrief Kim afterwards.
“We are not going to give up at this moment,” Moon Hee-sang, the speaker of South Korea’s National Assembly. “I would like Mr. Trump to confirm his willingness to continue the momentum for dialogue with North Korea, and I also hope that he would express his willingness to hold the third summit between the United States and North Korea.”
The speaker said the strong “chemistry” between Trump, Kim and Moon offers the three leaders a unique opportunity. “That doesn’t come along often,” he said.
Reporting for this story was made possible by the Atlantic Council Korea Journalist Fellowship Program. Deirdre Shesgreen participated in the fellowship, which was sponsored by the Atlantic Council, a nonpartisan think tank in Washington, D.C., in partnership with the Korea Foundation.
Read or Share this story: https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2019/04/10/south-korean-president-moon-revive-talks-trump-kim-jong-un-north-korea-nuclear-negotiations/3405013002/