In a move that could see President Donald Trump set foot on North Korean soil again, Kim Jong Un has invited the U.S. leader to Pyongyang, a South Korean newspaper reported Monday, as the North’s Foreign Ministry said it expected stalled nuclear talks to resume “in a few weeks.”
A letter from Kim, the second Trump received from the North Korean leader last month, was passed to the U.S. president during the third week of August and came ahead of the North’s launch of short-range projectiles on Sept. 10, the South’s Joongang Ilbo newspaper reported, citing multiple people familiar with the matter.
In the letter, Kim expressed his willingness to meet the U.S. leader for another summit — a stance that echoed Trump’s own remarks just days earlier.
The Japan Times could not confirm the veracity of the report and the U.S. State Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha, asked at a parliamentary session Monday about the report, appeared to initially confirm the letter’s existence.
“We received a detailed explanation from the U.S. side that a letter of that kind has been delivered,” Kang told lawmakers without touching on details. But the Foreign Ministry later clarified that she had been speaking about the earlier letter Trump received from Kim, the South’s Yonhap news agency reported, citing an unidentified ministry official.
News of the apparent new letter came as the North’s Foreign Ministry released a statement Monday saying that it expected working-level talks with the U.S. to resume “in the next few weeks,” but warning that “dialogue offers two options: crisis and opportunity.”
“Only when the threats and obstacles that disturb our institutional security and hinder our development are … removed will we be able to denuclearize,” the statement, carried by the official Korean Central News Agency, said.
The flurry of news appeared to be part of a bid by both sides to jump-start nuclear talks as an end-of-year deadline for progress set by Kim fast approaches.
Trump indicated Thursday that he could meet Kim by the end of the year in what would be the two leaders’ fourth summit. Asked whether he would meet Kim again this year, Trump said: “At some point, yes. … Certainly they want to meet, they’d like to meet. I think it’s something that will happen and we’ll see. … I think something can happen.”
Trump said on Aug. 9 that he had received a three-page “very beautiful letter” from Kim and hinted then at another meeting.
Trump and South Korean President Moon Jae-in are expected to hold a summit on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York later this month, Moon’s office said Friday, amid hopes for a restart of the stalled talks with the North.
But Pyongyang has sent mixed messages to Washington and Seoul, with a spate of weapons tests since July 25.
Last week’s test came just hours after the North offered to resume nuclear talks with the U.S.
Pyongyang had said before that launch that it is willing to restart the talks later this month but warned that chances of a deal could evaporate unless Washington takes a fresh approach.
In a statement carried by KCNA, Vice Foreign Minister Choe Son Hui said Pyongyang is willing to have “comprehensive discussions” with the United States late this month at a time and place to be agreed to by both sides.
In April, Kim set a year-end deadline for the United States to show more flexibility in talks, which broke down in Hanoi in February over U.S. demands for North Korea to relinquish its nuclear arsenal and Pyongyang’s demands for relief from crushing U.N. sanctions.
In a Sept. 6 speech, U.S. envoy for North Korea Stephen Biegun said the Trump administration is prepared to negotiate whenever the Kim regime is ready.
Choe’s offer came after Kim agreed in a June 30 meeting with Trump at the Demilitarized Zone to reopen working-level talks stalled since their failed February summit in Hanoi.
During the meeting in the DMZ, Trump stepped over the Military Demarcation Line dividing the two Koreas to become the first sitting American president to ever step onto North Korean soil.
Trump has faced criticism for his embrace of Kim, with some observers saying he could be looking for a big foreign policy win to tout as he gears up for his 2020 White House re-election bid.
Robert Kelly, a North Korea expert and professor at Pusan National University in South Korea, called the reported move “totally predictable.”
“Trump desperately wants to go; media discussion will be grandiose, bordering on absurd … Trump 2020 has its photo-op,” he wrote on Twitter.
Totally predictable: Trump desperately wants to go; media discussion will be grandiose, bordering on absurd; NKs will stage-manage it perfectly to flatter the Great Ego; T & Kim sign something that gives away a lot to NK, like recognition, for little; Trump 2020 has its photo-op https://t.co/IVcaYdh06B
— Robert E Kelly (@Robert_E_Kelly) September 16, 2019
The Trump-Kim summits have also stoked concern in Japan, which has blasted the recent spate of weapons tests as a “very serious issue” and has repeatedly noted that Pyongyang is banned from the use of all ballistic missile technology under United Nations sanctions resolutions.
Although Trump has given a pass to the North on its shorter-range weapons tests despite a U.N. ban, Tokyo has been outspoken in its condemnation of the launches. It believes Pyongyang is using the space created by Trump’s de facto blessing to develop powerful new weapons systems, including shorter-range ballistic missiles capable of striking parts of Japan.