Third Kim-Trump summit is likely soon: NIS

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Third Kim-Trump summit is likely soon: NIS

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un may be gearing up for a summit with U.S. President Donald Trump in December, said South Korea’s intelligence agency on Monday.

According to Rep. Lee Hye-hoon, the head of the National Assembly’s Intelligence Committee who led the parliamentary audit of the National Intelligence Service (NIS) Monday, the spy agency forecasted a new round of working-level negotiations within this month, or early December at the latest, before the end-of-year deadline set by Kim for a mutually acceptable deal.

Following the closed-door audit, Rep. Kim Min-ki of the ruling Democratic Party and Rep. Lee Eun-jae of the main opposition Liberty Korea Party briefed reporters that the NIS had said a North Korea-U.S. summit was scheduled for December. Rep. Lee Hye-hoon, however, later retracted this brief, saying the NIS had only made a “reasonable guess” as to the likelihood of a summit taking place next month rather than a definite conclusion.

A separate statement from the NIS said its officers at the audit, including Director Suh Hoon, made no mention of a specific period for a third North Korea-U.S. summit, but only that working level talks appeared likely within this month or the next as a follow-up on the fruitless denuclearization talks between the two sides in Stockholm early last month.

Yet even this window of opportunity for further dialogue may be closing fast, according to North Korea’s Foreign Ministry on Tuesday.

In a statement in the form of a question and answer session with the state-run Korean Central News Agency, a ministry spokesman condemned the U.S. State Department’s decision to keep North Korea on its list of state sponsors of terrorism, saying the move proved again Washington’s “inveterate repugnancy” and “hostile policy” toward Pyongyang.

Branding the regime as a terrorism sponsor “at a sensitive time” when nuclear talks remain at a stalemate represents an “insult and perfidy” against a dialogue partner, the spokesman said, adding that the “channel of the dialogue” between the two countries “is more and more narrowing due to such attitude and stand of the U.S.”

North Korea has been ramping up its weapons development in recent months to add pressure on Washington, testing several short-range ballistic missiles with a variety of ranges and specifications. The likelihood that the country may return to testing an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) also remains a hot-button issue in Seoul, where different government bodies have disagreed with one another on the North’s capacity to fire an ICBM from a transporter erector launcher (TEL), a mobile launch vehicle. According to Rep. Lee Hye-hoon, NIS Director Suh said while Pyongyang had fired an ICBM from a TEL in the past, recent technical difficulties have forced the North to use TELs solely to transport the missiles to a fixed launch pad from which the weapons are fired.

The NIS also commented on the North’s alleged submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) test last month, which took place just a day before the Stockholm talks, saying once Pyongyang launches its new Sinpo-class submarine, which many foreign analysts say is in fact a modified Romeo-class sub, in the close future, an SLBM test may follow suit.

The North may also be bolstering its ties with China even further to hedge its bets in its diplomacy with the United States. According to the NIS, there have been signs that Kim Jong-un may visit China within the year for another summit with Chinese President Xi Jinping, given precedents in which Kim met with Xi before meeting Trump in their first and second summits. With Pyongyang and Beijing marking the 70th year of diplomatic ties this year, there have already been signs of celebrations in the works, like a scheduled whirlwind tour of China by North Korea’s top female pop band next month.

In terms of North Korea’s domestic politics, the NIS said Kim Pyong-il - Kim Jong-un’s paternal uncle and younger half-brother to former leader Kim Jong-il - had been switched out as the North’s ambassador to the Czech Republic and would be returning to Pyongyang. Kim Pyong-il’s long-serving ambassadorial position was largely regarded as a form of exile given the political threat he posed to Kim Jong-il’s legitimacy in the past, but the decision to bring him back may be a sign that Kim Pyong-il is no longer seen as a risk since the succession of power to Kim Jong-un.

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