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Kim’s remarks to Moon hint at fourth summit

July 05,2019
Seoul may be gearing up for another inter-Korean summit, as remarks North Korean leader Kim Jong-un made to President Moon Jae-in on Sunday hinted at the possibility of a future meeting.

The remark from Kim was heard through footage of the abrupt meeting between the two leaders and U.S. President Donald Trump on Sunday.

As he walked out of the Freedom House - a building on the South’s side of Panmunjom where he had a 53-minute talk with Trump - Kim appears to have told Moon that the North “should [make] a precedent where, if willing, [it] can meet the South without concerns about a venue or protocol.”

With Trump walking between them, Moon responded, “That fact itself is what is important.”

The exchange, which was previously not reported due to muffled sound quality of the recording, suggests the two Korean leaders talked about a new inter-Korean summit during their brief encounter at Panmunjom.

A high-ranking South Korean official confirmed that the “necessity of such a summit was directly and indirectly delivered to the North” that day before the North Korean leader returned back to the North’s side of the demilitarized zone, though no further details were given.

The official also added that it remained Seoul’s policy to “bolster denuclearization negotiations between North Korea and the United States” through an inter-Korean summit. In a press conference following the Panmunjom talks, Moon said inter-Korean dialogue would be attempted at a later date.

On Wednesday, Unification Minister Kim Yeon-chul gave a glowing review of Sunday’s abrupt meeting between the three leaders and said the South Korean government would work toward building on its momentum to improve inter-Korean relations.

Some in the South Korean government are pushing to hold a bilateral summit with the North before August 15 - Korea’s Liberation Day from Japanese rule - for that cause.

While the weekend’s events have reopened working level dialogue between North Korea and the United States, it remains to be seen whether Pyongyang is willing to engage Seoul in the process given that the North’s United Front Department (UFD) - which is nominally in charge of inter-Korean relations - appeared to be sidestepped by its Foreign Ministry at the Panmunjom talks.

In the months following the collapse of the second U.S.-North Korea summit at Hanoi, Vietnam, in February, the North’s state media has been vocal in its criticism of the South, claiming Seoul was not holding true to its side of a bargain Moon and Kim struck to improve relations at their first summit in April last year.

Analysts say the elevated profile of Pyongyang’s Foreign Ministry in dictating the country’s diplomatic policy may be related to this position, which was made particularly clear when one of the Foreign Ministry’s leading officials released a statement last month balking at the South’s attempt to play a mediating role.

Since Sunday, the North’s state media has been noticeably quiet in its critique of Seoul, a major shift from a commentary released just before the summit on Saturday in which one state-run outlet, Arirang Meari, said South Korea’s leaders lacked “an understanding of the reality.”

While Seoul is likely to work in tandem with the working-level talks between Pyongyang and Washington to suggest talks of their own, the North so far remains unresponsive to the South’s other diplomatic initiatives, like its plans to provide food aid or a proposal to launch joint efforts to combat the spread of African swine fever.

In addition, Seoul is waiting for a response on holding video-based reunions between families divided by the inter-Korean border, which it has prepared for months since it was agreed to at the second summit between Moon and Kim at Pyongyang last September.

BY SHIM KYU-SEOK, JEONG YONG-SOO [shim.kyuseok@joongang.co.kr]


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