Asia Pacific / Politics

Trump says second Kim meeting a go as Moon calls U.S. president 'only person' who can rid North Korea of nukes

by Jesse Johnson

Staff Writer

U.S. President Donald Trump said Monday that a second meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on denuclearization would happen “in the not-too-distant future,” as the South’s leader heaped praise on the American president, calling him “the only person who can solve this problem.”

Speaking during a televised meeting with South Korean President Moon Jae-in in New York, Trump said there had been “tremendous progress” on the nuclear issue, and that a second summit will be held under a “similar format” as his landmark June meeting with Kim in Singapore, but likely in a different location.

“We’ll be having a second summit with Chairman Kim in the not too distant future,” Trump said. “I think a lot of progress is being made. I see tremendous enthusiasm on behalf of Chairman Kim for making a deal.”

Washington’s denuclearization talks with Pyongyang had hit a snag in the more than three months since the Singapore summit, but plans for a second meeting, as well as a series of tantalizing proposals by Kim at last week’s inter-Korean summit with Moon, have injected fresh momentum into the negotiations.

During their meeting Monday, Moon also highlighted what he said was the indispensable role Trump has played in the nuclear talks.

“Thanks to your bold decision and new approach, we are in the process of solving a problem that no one has been able to solve in the decades past,” Moon said of Trump.

“Chairman Kim also repeatedly conveyed his unwavering trust and expectations for you, while expressing his hope to meet you soon to swiftly conclude the denuclearization process with you, because you are, indeed, the only person who can solve this problem.”

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Monday that a Kim-Trump summit was needed considering that U.S. had “been at this the other way an awfully long time and failed

“We tried to do details. We tried to do step for step. We tried to do trade for trade. Each of those failed,” he said. “We’re bringing the two senior leaders, the individuals who can actually make the decisions that will move this process forward,” in hopes they can make a breakthrough.

Frank Aum, a former senior Pentagon adviser on North Korea now with the United States Institute of Peace in Washington, lauded Moon’s approach and said it had “made a big difference.”

“I think it’s preferable to try to appeal to President Trump’s singular negotiation skills rather than making another option, such as a military measure, more salient,” Aum said.

“Flattery is probably preferable to mockery in diplomacy. I think Moon is correct to point that President Trump’s unconventional approach — meeting with Kim directly more so than ‘maximum pressure’ — has made a big difference in relations with North Korea,” he added, referring to the U.S. policy of heaping economic and diplomatic pressure on Pyongyang.

Last week’s inter-Korean summit, the third this year between Kim and Moon, was also widely seen as an attempt by the two Koreas to bring the U.S. back to the negotiating table.

During those talks, the North reportedly agreed to “permanently” decommission a key missile facility under the watch of “experts from relevant countries” and said it is willing to close its main Nyongbyon nuclear complex if the United States takes “reciprocal measures.”

Asked about the prospect of a second Trump-Kim summit meeting, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said in Tokyo that Japan will seize on talks between Trump and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe slated for Thursday to “thoroughly discuss” North Korea policies.

“What’s important is that North Korea’s commitment to complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, as well as an agreement between Washington and Pyongyang, will be implemented thoroughly and swiftly,” Suga said.

The top government spokesman also said Abe, upon talking one-one-one with Trump over dinner Sunday, relayed to the president messages from families of Japanese citizens abducted by North Korean agents in 1970s and ’80s. Trump, according to Suga, listened to Abe with “great enthusiasm.”

Meanwhile, in an apparent attempt to underscore Kim’s seriousness about relinquishing his country’s nuclear weapons, Moon on Monday spotlighted the inter-Korean summit last week as evidence of the North Korean leader’s support for this process.

“In particular, it’s hugely significant that Chairman Kim personally expressed his commitment to denuclearization in front of the world media, and that I highlighted once again the denuclearization agreement reached with Chairman Kim in front of 150,000 citizens of Pyongyang,” Moon said, referring a speech last Wednesday in the North Korean capital after watching a mass games performance with Kim.

That emotional address — the first-ever speech in the North by a president from the South — touched on reunification and even mentioned “a nuclear weapon-free and nuclear threat-free” Korean Peninsula — a reference to April’s historic Panmunjom Declaration.

“Now, North Korea’s decision to relinquish its nuclear program has been officialized to a degree that not even those within North Korea can reverse,” he added.

Pyongyang has in the past made similar commitments to giving up its nuclear program, including in a September 2005 joint statement released during the six-party talks in which the North vowed to work toward “verifiable denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula in a peaceful manner.”

But however enticing the inter-Korean summit proposals appeared, details were scant and it was unclear what commensurate actions Pyongyang might be expecting from Washington.

A spokesman for South Korea’s presidential Blue House said later Monday that Moon and Trump had discussed possible ways to reward North Korea for denuclearization measures, apparently in response to its self-imposed missile- and nuclear-test moratorium and the dismantling of its sole known nuclear test site earlier this year.

“The leaders agreed to continue communicating closely about corresponding measures,” South Korea’s Yonhap news agency quoted spokesman Kim Eui-kyeom as saying.

In a hint at a possible three-way summit involving Moon, the spokesman also said the two leaders had held in-depth discussions on the date and location of the second Trump-Kim meeting.

Moon had earlier insisted that a declaration formally ending the Korean War, a step ahead of a formal peace treaty, would be one possible reciprocal measure for the North, saying it may provide some measure of a security assurance to the Kim regime. Fighting in the 1950-53 war was halted by an armistice, which has governed the conflict ever since.

The North has in recent weeks urged the U.S. to issue such a declaration, calling one “a prerequisite for peace.”

Pyongyang has also been seeking relief from crippling U.S. and international sanctions, though Washington has said it remains too early in the process for such a move.

“Now is not the time to ease pressure,” Pompeo said Monday.

Still, both Trump and Kim — who have touted their personal relationship — have voiced support for a second meeting, where those issues will likely be taken up.

“Chairman Kim has been really very open and terrific, frankly,” Trump said. “And I think he wants to see something happen.”

The U.S. leader said Pompeo was working on putting together a summit, and the top American diplomat himself said Monday that he would likely be traveling to Pyongyang “before the end of the year,” to continue discussions with his North Korean counterparts.

Pompeo said that while he’s optimistic the North will make good on its pledge to denuclearize, it would be “foolish” to set a certain date for how long the U.S. will leave the door open for talks.

“Make no mistake, the conversations are important, they’re putting the opportunity to complete the denuclearization in place. We’ll continue at every level to have those conversations,” he said, adding that there remains work to be done in the region and that it will be “some time” before complete denuclearization takes place.

The top U.S. diplomat had said in a statement last week welcoming the results of the inter-Korean summit that U.S. talks with the North over efforts to end its nuclear weapons program will be completed by January 2021, before Trump’s first term ends.

Staff writer Tomohiro Osaki contributed to this report.