President Donald Trump said his administration is holding direct talks with North Korea to salvage a summit with Kim Jong Un initially planned for Singapore next month.
Trump told reporters on Saturday night that meetings were taking place “as we speak” in an unidentified location to push ahead with the summit, which he abruptly canceled last week due to “open hostility” from North Korea. A White House team will travel to Singapore to continue preparations for the on-again, off-again meeting.
“We’re doing very well in terms of the summit with North Korea,” Trump said. “We’re looking at June 12 in Singapore. That hasn’t changed, and it’s moving along pretty well. So we’ll see what happens.”
Trump’s remarks came a day after South Korean President Moon Jae-in met Kim for a surprise two-hour meeting on their border in a bid to keep the Trump summit on track. Moon said on Sunday that Kim requested the meeting, only the fourth ever by leaders of the two countries since the Korean War.
“Chairman Kim clearly appealed once again that his intent to completely denuclearize the Korean Peninsula is firm,” Moon said. “What’s unclear for Chairman Kim, in my opinion, is not his willingness for denuclearization but whether he can certainly trust the U.S. saying that it’ll end hostile relations and guarantee the security of his regime after his denuclearization.”
South Korea is reviewing ways to address North Korea’s security concerns, including turning the current armistice into a peace agreement, a senior Moon administration official said on Sunday. Moon reiterated a goal to hold a trilateral summit with both Trump and Kim to officially end the Korean War if their meeting is successful.
The second meeting between Kim and Moon in as many months reflects urgency among both men to maintain momentum for diplomacy. Since taking power last year, Moon has sought to facilitate dialogue between Trump and Kim to avoid the possibility of a devastating military conflict on the Korean Peninsula.
North Korea’s state news agency, KCNA, said the Korean leaders had agreed to “high-level” talks between the two countries on June 1. “They shared the opinion that they would meet frequently in the future to make dialogue brisk and pool wisdom and efforts,” KCNA said.
The main dispute between the U.S. and North Korea boils down to how fast Kim should give up his weapons, and what he’ll get in return.
North Korea rejected outright calls from U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton to follow the Libya model of quickly giving up its nuclear weapons before it gets anything in return. Libyan dictator Moammar Qaddafi was killed in an uprising several years later.
Moon on Sunday dodged a question on whether Kim clearly mentioned if he would agree to the U.S. demand for complete, verifiable, irreversible denuclearization.
“If North Korea and the U.S. are to have a summit, then their summit is possible only after they confirm each other’s intention on that regard,” Moon said. “I’d like to say that the fact that North Korea and the U.S. agreed to have a summit and working-level talks indicates that the U.S. has already confirmed the North’s intentions.”
The White House has signaled flexibility over the details of denuclearization, with Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders saying earlier this month that the administration will follow the “President Trump model.” North Korea seized on that in a statement on Friday calling for talks with the U.S.
North Korea “inwardly highly appreciated” Trump for agreeing to the summit, and hoped the “Trump formula” would help lead to a deal between the adversaries, First Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kye Gwan said in a statement Friday urging the resumption of talks.
Trump’s letter to Kim canceling the planned June 12 summit didn’t rule out a meeting in the future, said a person familiar with the administration’s thinking. The person, who asked not to be identified discussing internal matters, said the “maximum pressure” campaign to strangle North Korea’s economy is working, and Kim’s regime will have to come to the table eventually.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tweeted on Saturday to “Stay Focused. It’s about the outcome. It’s about keeping Americans and the world safe.”
© Copyright 2021 Bloomberg News. All rights reserved.