PYEONGCHANG, SOUTH KOREA – South Korean President Moon Jae-in said Saturday it was too early to think about a summit with North Korea despite the Olympic-driven rapprochement with its nuclear-armed neighbor, and that he hopes his efforts at engagement will lead to better ties between Pyongyang and Washington so denuclearization talks can be set up.
But Moon wouldn’t answer a question Saturday about what needs to happen before he will take up North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on his invitation for a summit.
He earlier said, “Let’s not get too far ahead” on a summit, according to his office.
“There are high hopes for a North-South summit but I think it is a bit rushed,” Moon told reporters in Pyeongchang during a visit to the main press center.
“We have a Korean saying (on acting prematurely), which is ‘looking for hot water beside the well,’ ” he added.
The North is subject to multiple sets of U.N. Security Council sanctions over its banned nuclear and ballistic missile programs. It conducted dozens of weapons tests last year.
But the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang have seen Moon and Kim’s younger sister Kim Yo Jong cheering the unified Korean women’s ice hockey team, enjoying a concert and dining together.
However, Moon said the so-called Peace Olympics have highlighted the need for engagement between Washington and Pyongyang.
“The general consensus on the need for dialogue between the U.S. and North Korea is gradually increasing,” he said.
“We are waiting for the current inter-Korean talks to lead to dialogue between the U.S. and North Korea, and to denuclearization.”
Moon has yet to accept the North Korean offer, which was delivered Feb. 10 by Kim’s sister. He has only said that the Koreas should “create an environment” for talks.
There is a reason for his caution: the U.S. Moon likely wants his talks with the North to come amid warming ties between Pyongyang and Washington so there is less chance of aliening its most crucial ally, which keeps 28,500 troops in South Korea to deter an attack by the North.
Some conservatives worry that North Korea’s friendly overtures to Seoul are meant to push Washington farther away from Seoul. This, the North may hope, will ruin U.S. President Donald Trump’s policy of “maximum pressure,” which is focused on slapping more sanctions on the most sanctioned country on Earth.
“We are hoping that the ongoing talks between the South and North will lead to talks between the United States and North Korea and eventually to (North Korean) denuclearization dialogue,” Moon told reporters at the Olympics media center in Pyeongchang.
Also Saturday, Foreign Minister Taro Kono voiced support for diplomacy but said now is not the time for dialogue.
“Having contact is important in that it delivers a message that (North Korea) can take a seat at the table for dialogue by abandoning its nuclear and missile development programs,” Kono told reporters. But “Japan is sharing the view with the United States and South Korea that we would gain nothing if we have dialogue now,” underscoring the need for maintaining pressure on Pyongyang to compel it to give up its ambitions.
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