Asia Pacific / Politics

South Korean president lobbies for Kim Jong Un on Europe tour

AFP-JIJI

South Korean President Moon Jae-in said Monday that world powers needed to reassure North Korea’s Kim Jong Un that he had taken the right decision in committing to scrap his nuclear weapons program.

Moon, who has met Kim three times this year, is on a seven-day tour of Europe where he is expected to update leaders in Paris, Rome and Brussels on the rapidly thawing relations between Seoul and Pyongyang.

Moon, who met with French President Emmanuel Macron on Monday, said the U.N. Security Council needed to play an “active role” in helping convince the reclusive North Korean leader to fully abandoned his atomic arms program.

“They need to feel confident that they have made the right choice in accepting to destroy their nuclear weapons,” Moon said at a joint press conference in Paris, adding that France had “a major role to play.”

Ahead of his meeting with Macron, Moon told France’s Le Figaro newspaper that Kim had “expressed his frustration at the continued skepticism of the international community” during their talks.

Moon, who met with his North Korean counterpart in April, May and September, was instrumental in brokering a historic summit in Singapore between U.S. President Donald Trump and Kim in June.

But some analysts say the dovish South Korean leader has gambled too much on securing an end to hostilities on the peninsula and has so far obtained only minimal concessions from Pyongyang.

It has also put him at odds with Washington, which is wary of the rapid pace of rapprochement between the two Koreas and believes pressure needs to be maintained until Kim fully dismantles his weapons programs.

Macron too ruled out any sanctions relief or making further concessions to North Korea amid continued fears that Kim might not be prepared to commit to an “irreversible and verifiable” deal to abandon his nuclear ambitions.

“We need to have progress to do anything more diplomatically,” Macron said, adding that France remained in favor of keeping U.N. sanctions in place and would argue for this at the U.N. Security Council, where it has a permanent seat.

Macron also ruled out the symbolic gesture of re-establishing a French embassy in North Korea.

“It’s good to keep some leverage to help ensure that there are changes,” Macron said in a veiled warning about the dangers of giving up too much, too soon to Pyongyang.

Moon defended his strategy in the Le Figaro interview, saying that “despite his young age, Kim Jong Un has demonstrated sincerity, simplicity, calm and politeness” during their talks.

The two Koreas announced a new confidence-building measure on Monday that will see them reconnect their railways and roads as early as next month.

Moon is set to hold talks with French business leaders on Tuesday during the final leg of his French trip, with the agenda set to be dominated by trade, which has tripled in the last 20 years to €8.0 billion ($9.2 billion).

The South Korea leader, who is Catholic, is set to meet the pope on Thursday and will personally convey Kim’s desire for the pontiff to visit North Korea.

He visits Brussels on Friday and Copenhagen on Saturday.