Relishing its role, Seoul plans more summits

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Relishing its role, Seoul plans more summits

With South Korea laying the groundwork for its summit with North Korea next month and a landmark summit between North Korea and the United States later, the Moon Jae-in administration is making the most of its diplomatic moment - by squeezing in more summits in between.

A high-level Blue House official who spoke on the condition of anonymity said the Moon administration is currently weighing the option of holding an extra Seoul-Washington summit between the Seoul-Pyongyang and Pyongyang-Washington summits, which are expected to take place in late April and before the end of May, respectively.

Following a phone conversation between Moon and U.S. President Donald Trump last Friday, the White House released a statement reiterating that Trump still intended to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un by the end of May - despite recently firing his secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, and replacing him with Mike Pompeo, the former CIA director known for his hawkish approach toward North Korea.

“Both leaders affirmed the importance of learning from the mistakes of the past,” the White House statement said, “and pledged continued, close coordination to maintain maximum pressure on the North Korean regime.”

The statement said Moon and Trump agreed that “concrete actions, not words,” would be the key to achieving permanent denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

Another source in the Blue House said Moon and his aides were weighing the option of holding a bilateral summit with Tokyo as well as a trilateral summit with Tokyo and Beijing after Moon meets with Trump. The additional summits could occur around May 10, the source said, which will be one year since Moon took office.

In a phone conversation with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe last Friday, Moon was said to have agreed with Abe that a trilateral summit should be held at the earliest possible date, and that Moon ought to personally visit Japan soon, according to the Blue House.

Abe was also quoted as raising the possibility of a bilateral summit with Pyongyang after Kim meets Trump, citing the so-called Japan-DPRK Pyongyang Declaration, signed on Sept. 17, 2002, between former North Korean leader Kim Jong-il and then-Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, as precedent. DPRK is the acronym of North Korea’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

Koizumi was the first Japanese prime minister to visit North Korea. At the time, both sides discussed Japanese nationals abducted to North Korea, and according to a transcript from Japan’s Foreign Ministry, Kim Jong-il, the father of Kim Jong-un, promised to obey international agreements related to nuclear weapons and freeze missile launches without any time limit.

“It’s crucial that the inter-Korean summit late next month leads to significant agreements on denuclearization,” said Cheong Seong-chang, a unification strategy analyst at the Sejong Institute in Seongnam, Gyeonggi. “The plans set for after the South-North summit can only be smoothly carried out if North Korea specifically promises to give up its nuclear arsenal.”

The Moon administration has long underscored international cooperation in dealing with North Korea and its nuclear weapons.

Shortly after Kim Jong-un first suggested his country would participate in the Winter Olympics in South Korea on Jan. 1, Moon said the improvement of South-North relations could not be separated from the nuclear issue and urged diplomats in his Foreign Ministry to cooperate with other countries on pursuing denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

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