Moon, Trump discuss the way forward

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Moon, Trump discuss the way forward


President Moon Jae-in, left, shakes hands with U.S. President Donald Trump before their summit at the White House on Thursday. [JOINT PRESS CORPS]

The leaders of South Korea and the United States agreed Thursday to maintain their strategy of personally persuading North Korean leader Kim Jong-un to give up nuclear arms, as South Korean President Moon Jae-in and U.S. President Donald Trump held their seventh official meeting in Washington Thursday.

Moon told Trump of his plan to hold a fourth summit with Kim in the near future, while Trump left open the possibility of a third summit between him and Kim.

Moon met with Trump at the White House on Thursday to try to restart nuclear negotiations with the North after the second Kim-Trump summit collapsed in February in Hanoi, Vietnam.

“The two leaders agreed that the top-down approach will continue to be crucial in the process of the Korean Peninsula’s peace,” Chung Eui-yong, head of the National Security Office of the Blue House, said after the summit. “In that regard, President Trump stressed that the door for dialogue with Kim is always open.

“Moon explained his plan to push forward an inter-Korean summit soon,” Chung said. “He also reaffirmed his intention to closely cooperate with Trump so that the next North-U.S. summit will serve as a new milestone in the denuclearization negotiation.”

While the two leaders agreed to continue their personal diplomacy with Kim, they appeared to have disagreed on strategies.

Moon has pitched an idea that the United States accept smaller deals to keep the process going, but Trump made clear before the summit that he wants a comprehensive, one-shot deal to denuclearize the North, as he presented to Kim in the failed Hanoi summit.

“At this moment, we’re talking about the big deal,” Trump said before the summit. “The big deal is we have to get rid of the nuclear weapons.”

He still left some room. “There are various smaller deals that maybe could happen,” he said. “Things could happen. You can work out, step by step, pieces.”

Trump also said it was premature to give the North economic concessions, such as restarting an inter-Korean industrial complex in Kaesong or cross-border tours to Mount Kumgang. “This isn’t the right time,” he said. “But at the right time, I’d have great support with North Korea.”

Trump made clear he has no intention of easing sanctions on the North to revive talks. “And frankly, I had the option of significantly increasing them. I didn’t want to do that because of my relationship with Kim,” he said, referring to additional sanctions that were withheld a couple weeks ago.

“I think that sanctions are, right now, at a level that’s a fair level,” he said. “And I really believe something very significant is going to happen. We could always increase them, but I didn’t want to do that at this time.”

Instead of easing sanctions to allow inter-Korean economic projects, Trump said he is willing to offer humanitarian aid to the North. “Well, we are discussing certain humanitarian things right now, and I’m okay with that, to be honest,” he said. “And South Korea is doing certain things to help out with food and various other things for North Korea.”

Seoul and Washington are discussing a plan to send a South Korean $8 million aid package through the United Nations Children’s Fund and World Food Program to support children and mothers in the North.

“Moon said during the summit that after he returns to Korea, the South will contact the North and try to arrange an inter-Korean summit as soon as possible,” a senior Korean government official said. “The time and venue are yet to be decided.”

“At the end of the summit, Trump asked Moon to inform him as soon as possible about the North’s position that the South has grasped through an inter-Korean summit or other inter-Korean contacts,” he said.

Moon had three summits with Kim last year. The first two meetings took place in the truce village of Panmunjom and the third one in Pyongyang. Although the first two inter-Korean summits paved the way for Kim’s historic meeting with Trump in Singapore last June, it remains to be seen if another North-U.S. summit will ever come about.

The official said Moon and Trump had a candid discussion on specific plans for a third North-U.S. summit. He also said their talks removed various uncertainties raised after the collapse of the Hanoi meeting. “We confirmed the U.S. intention to have follow-up talks with the North,” he said.

On Thursday, Trump repeatedly stressed that he has “a very, very good relationship with Kim,” and a “third summit could happen.”

Sue Mi Terry, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told the JoongAng Ilbo that Kim, who tasted his first failure in Hanoi, may want to wait and negotiate with a different administration after the 2020 U.S. election.

Bruce Klingner, a senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation, also told the JoongAng Ilbo that the North won’t be interested in having another inter-Korean summit because Moon failed to win Trump’s support to lift sanctions to restart economic projects.

Meanwhile, Trump repeatedly stressed before the summit that he will discuss with Moon Korea’s arms purchases from the United States. “President Moon and South Korea have agreed to purchase a tremendous amount of our military equipment, from jet fighters to missiles, to lots of other things,” he said.

“I look forward to talking about other things also, and in particular, all of that equipment that you’re buying,” Trump also said. “We like that in the United States. We like that you buy our great equipment. So again, thank you very much. And thank you for your leadership.”

A senior Seoul official, however, said no agreement was made at the summit for Korea to make any new purchases of U.S. arms.

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