Kim-Trump meeting in DMZ is unlikely: U.S.

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Kim-Trump meeting in DMZ is unlikely: U.S.

U.S. President Donald Trump has “no plans” for a meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un during his visit to Korea later this week, said a senior U.S. administration official Monday, as diplomatic activity in the region goes into overdrive.

Trump is scheduled to make a two-day visit to Seoul on Saturday and Sunday for a summit with South Korean President Moon Jae-in on the heels of a Group of 20 (G-20) leaders’ meeting in Osaka, Japan, Thursday and Friday.

Following a recent exchange of letters between Kim and Trump as they marked the one-year anniversary of their first summit in Singapore, which underscored friendly relations despite a failed second summit in Hanoi, Vietnam, in February, there was speculation that Trump may try to meet Kim a third time in the truce village of Panmunjom at the inter-Korean border on Sunday.

The U.S. official told reporters over the phone that the purpose of Trump’s visit to Seoul is to meet Moon and discuss North Korean denuclearization and the South-U.S. alliance. The two leaders are expected to “compare notes” on the North Korea situation and also discuss trade.

Trump is keeping open the door to diplomacy, but “has made it clear that the nukes have got to go,” said the official, and is ultimately “looking for the final, fully verified denuclearization of North Korea.”

The official didn’t confirm whether Trump will be visiting the demilitarized zone (DMZ), a trip that was thwarted during the U.S. president’s previous trip to Seoul in 2017.

Joy Yamamoto, director of the State Department’s Office of Korean Affairs, said Monday they have not “fully settled on the schedule for the trip.”

Yet Yamamoto, speaking at a forum at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, noted that along with bilateral meetings, other activities likely included business and economics events and “something related to the alliance, so to speak.”

“Nothing’s set,” said Yamamoto, but added that “President Moon’s intent is to be with President Trump virtually every minute of this trip.” Moon last visited Washington for a one-day summit with Trump in April.

Negotiations on denuclearizing North Korea will unquestionably be the top “priority” for the Moon-Trump summit, Yamamoto told a panel at the ROK-U.S. Strategic Forum organized by the CSIS and Korea Foundation.

“There is no question that this is the most important issue that is facing both the ROK [Republic of Korea] and the United States,” she said, “and there is no question that this will be the No. 1 topic for President Moon’s meetings with President Trump.”

Yamamoto, a former minister counselor for economic affairs at the U.S. Embassy in Seoul, said the United States plans to ask Korea to pay more in defense cost-sharing, pointing out that the Trump administration is “reviewing its policy on burden-sharing worldwide.”

The two countries renewed their bilateral Special Measures Agreement (SMA) for one year in March, and Seoul agreed to pay 8 percent more than under the previous deal, increasing its contribution to some 1 trillion won ($865.1 million) for the cost of stationing U.S. troops in Korea.

“I think our president had made it very clear that he wants our allies and partners to pay a fairer share, a greater share of the cost of protecting themselves,” said Yamamoto. “And so Korea comes under that.”

Once Washington finishes its review, she said, “We are hoping that soon we will begin again negotiating the next Special Measures Agreement with Korea, and we will be asking for more of Korea’s contribution to the stationing of forces in Korea.”

Yamamoto stressed that North Korean nuclear negotiations will not be successful without cooperation with its allies and good relations between Seoul and Tokyo.

“There are extremely important alliances for the United States,” said Yamamoto, “and having the ROK and Japan cooperate with each other is essential.”

She continued, “We’re not going to be successful in negotiating with North Korea unless those alliances are strong, and unless, frankly, that relationship between Japan and ROK is good.”

Yamamoto had been asked about Washington playing a mediating role to ease the strained relationship between Seoul and Tokyo, or possibly holding a trilateral summit with Trump, Moon and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

“Unfortunately, at this particular moment, it’s not good between those two countries,” Yamamoto said on relations between South Korea and Japan. She noted that while the U.S. government “would love to be involved and bring them together,” it could be interpreted by one side as “favoring the other.”

Yamamoto added, “There is no question that every chance we get, we encourage both sides to work out these historical issues, these sensitivities, the current forced labor cases that they’re now disputing.”

Tokyo has been protesting the Korean Supreme Court decisions last year ordering Japanese companies to compensate Korean victims of forced labor during World War II, contributing to tensions in bilateral diplomatic relations.

Japan recently rejected Korea’s offer to create a joint fund comprised of voluntary contributions by Korean and Japanese companies to compensate the victims. In turn, Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha warned Tuesday at the National Assembly that should Japan take retaliatory measures against Korea over the forced labor issue, the government “will have to do something about that.” Yamamoto underscored that Moon and Trump are expected to commit to an “enduring, strong bilateral relationship” and the bilateral alliance, which she said goes beyond North Korean issues, and includes cooperation in economics, health, science, technology and energy.

She pointed out that there is a “synergy” between Moon’s New Southern Policy on strengthening cooperation with Southeast Asian countries and President Trump’s Indo-Pacific Strategy.

The two sides have made a “deep commitment to work together in the Indo-Pacific region,” she said, adding that Seoul and Washington hold “very common values and a common approach” to development assistance in South Asia and Southeast Asia and on their notions of wanting to “enable countries to preserve their sovereignty to develop in ways that they want to and not because they are being forced into doing so.”

She added, “We should make a commitment to improve the alliance in so many ways across the board.”

The denuclearization issue will also be emphasized in Trump’s meetings on the sidelines of the G-20 summit, especially with Chinese President Xi Jinping, who last week visited Pyongyang for a summit with Kim Jong-un.

“This is a priority for the United States - North Korea’s denuclearization - so I would not be surprised if that’s not on the agenda for almost all of his bilateral meetings,” said Yamamoto.

“It would be natural considering Xi Jinping’s visit to Pyongyang, that there will be great curiosity about what the messages were there,” she said, along with exchanging “any ideas” that the Chinese president has “on engagement with North Korea.”

The U.S. State Department on Monday announced that Stephen Biegun, the U.S. special representative for North Korea, will travel to Seoul from Thursday to Sunday. He was scheduled to meet with South Korean officials before joining U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo for President Trump’s visit to Seoul this weekend.

Working-level negotiations between U.S. and North Korean officials have also been at a standstill since the failed Hanoi summit, so there has been interest in whether Biegun may make contact with North Korean officials during his trip.

A South Korean Foreign Ministry official said Tuesday that Biegun is expected to meet with South Korean officials including top nuclear envoy, Lee Do-hoon, on Friday.

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