Moon has Trump’s words for Kim

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Moon has Trump’s words for Kim

South Korean President Moon Jae-in received a message from U.S. President Donald Trump for North Korean leader Kim Jong-un that could potentially revive the stagnant negotiations between Washington and Pyongyang, a Blue House official said Sunday.

The top official in the South’s presidential office confirmed that Moon received the message from Trump during their recent summit in Washington earlier this month, though it did not elaborate on whether the message was written or verbally conveyed.

According to a source cited by CNN on Friday, however, the message contains “things that matter to the current course of action” and “that have to lead to something positive” for a potential new U.S.-North Korea summit.

The source, apparently a South Korean official, went on to say that Kim would likely be “very, very curious” about what Moon took away from his meeting with Trump, suggesting the two leaders may have discussed some sort of gesture to placate the North, which could be reflected in the message to Kim.

The Blue House official said Moon would relay the message to Kim if the North were to agree to hold another inter-Korean summit in the near future, something Moon said was on the agenda in his meeting with Trump.

Those talks at the White House apparently yielded little in the way of compromise from Trump to South Korea’s preferred gradual approach to denuclearizing the North, but the U.S. president left open the possibility by mentioning that there were “various smaller deals that maybe could happen.”

Despite months of engagement by the Trump administration with Pyongyang, negotiations between the two countries have ground to a halt after the latest U.S.-North summit collapsed in Hanoi, Vietnam, in February. The reason was an unbridgeable disagreement on sanctions relief, which the North demands as a precondition for further steps toward denuclearization but is strongly opposed by Washington.

North Korea has since been keen to blame key Trump administration officials for bringing the talks to a standstill. On Saturday, it slammed White House National Security Adviser John Bolton as “dim-sighted” for the comments he had made in an interview on Wednesday. Bolton said the United States would need to see a “real indication” that Pyongyang is ready to give up its nuclear weapons before any third summit takes place between their leaders.

“As it was before, we have never expected that adviser Bolton would ever make a reasonable remark,” said the North’s Vice Foreign Minister Choe Son-hui in a statement from the state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA). “For all that, if he is a White House national security adviser, he should at least have understood about what kinds of substantive communications are made between the top leaders concerning the third round of summit before he had ever opened his mouth.”

Choe added that Bolton’s remarks made her wonder “whether they sprang out of incomprehension of the intentions” of their leaders or whether they contained a form of humor. “All things considered, his word has no charm in it and he looks dim-sighted to me,” she said.

This caustic reproach by Choe, perhaps the most vocal of the North’s officials, is only the most recent in a series of criticisms that Pyongyang has leveled at Trump advisors.

Last week, hours after the North claimed to have tested a new tactical weapon, its Foreign Ministry accused U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo of derailing the negotiations and demanded he be replaced with a “more careful and mature” negotiator.

Arguing Pompeo was threatening to make the talks more “entangled” because he was “letting loose reckless remarks and sophism of all kinds against us every day,” the ministry’s statement, released by the KCNA under the name of one of its officials, reaffirmed that the North would not change its stance on dialogue and that it was up to Washington to “change its way of calculation and come up with responsive measures before the end of this year.”

On Saturday, Pompeo said he was “still in charge” of diplomacy with the North and would remain so despite Pyongyang’s protests, and stressed his optimism over the negotiations’ outcome.

That stated hope, however, may not be shared by the U.S. working negotiators in the process, including Special Representative Stephen Biegun, who, according to CNN on Saturday, are growing frustrated behind the scenes. Citing multiple sources familiar with the diplomats, CNN said Biegun wanted to talk to the North Koreans but was unable to reach them.

After experiencing the setback in Hanoi in February, North Korea has been raising tensions by restoring a missile launch pad on its western coast and upping its criticism of Washington and Seoul, while reducing contact with the South through their main communication channels.

A summit between Kim with Russian President Vladimir Putin is slated for later this month, in which Kim is expected to enlist Moscow’s support to gain leverage in its talks with the United States.

BY SHIM KYU-SEOK [shim.kyuseok@joongang.co.kr]

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