South Korean President Moon Jae-in said Sunday that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un had reaffirmed his commitment to the “complete denuclearization” of the Korean Peninsula and looked forward to meeting President Donald Trump on June 12, in the latest attempt by the two Korean leaders to keep recent engagement efforts on track.
The remarks by Mr Moon came a day after the two Korean leaders met for an unannounced summit at the inter-Korean truce village of Panmunjom on Saturday, in the second meeting between the two men in as many months.
Mr Moon said the North Korean leader reached out to him on Friday for talks, and that the two sides agreed to meet at Panmunjom in a surprise summit that Mr. Moon said on Sunday was “like an ordinary meeting between friends.”
The meeting, together with optimistic remarks from Mr Trump on Saturday, marked a swift reversal from Thursday when Mr Trump wrote an open letter to Mr Kim calling off plans for a meeting and instead reminded him of the power of the U.S. nuclear arsenal.
On Sunday, Mr Moon said that he and Mr Kim expected plans for a June 12 summit in Singapore between Messrs. Trump and Kim to be a success, and added that he hoped to later hold a trilateral meeting with the U.S. president and North Korean leader.
Mr Moon said Mr Kim had expressed concerns at their Saturday meeting about whether the U.S. “could be fully trusted to guarantee his regime’s survival” if North Korea were to give up its nuclear weapons.
“I conveyed President Trump’s message that the U.S. would guarantee his regime’s survival, and provide economic aid if North Korea pursues complete denuclearization,” Mr Moon said.
Asked by a reporter if Mr Kim had agreed to the U.S.’s call for complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization, Mr Moon said that the U.S. and North Korea needed to work together to come to an agreement on the nuclear issue.
Saturday’s meeting—the fourth in history between leaders of the two Koreas—was the latest turn in a series of diplomatic manoeuvres as the U.S. and South Korea seek to rein in North Korea’s nuclear ambitions.
It followed an April 27 summit between Messrs. Moon and Kim on the south side of the line dividing the inter-Korean truce village of Panmunjom, at which the two men signed a Panmunjom Declaration vowing an end to war and hostilities between the two sides.
It also came days after Mr. Trump abruptly scrapped a planned summit with Mr Kim in Singapore on June 12—only to say a day later that it might still take place.
Mr. Trump said Saturday that plans for a U.S.-North Korea summit were now “moving along pretty well.”
Speaking in the Oval Office late Saturday, Mr. Trump said “we’re looking at June 12 in Singapore. That hasn’t changed.”
“I think there’s a lot of goodwill,” Mr. Trump said. “We can be successful in the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”
Earlier Saturday, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said an advance team from the White House would travel to Singapore on Sunday, as scheduled, to prepare for a summit should it take place.
Mr. Trump had scrapped plans for the summit, citing “open hostility” from the North Korean regime, as the White House considered dozens of sanctions on Pyongyang.
However, he has since expressed his interest in seeing the summit through, following an immediate change in tone from North Korea’s leader following the cancellation.
North Korea confirmed the meeting with Mr. Moon and the discussion of the planned Singapore summit through its state media early Sunday, saying that the meeting between Messrs. Moon and Kim happened “all of a sudden.”
The two Koreas agreed to “meet frequently in the future,” North Korea’s report said, portraying the relationship of Messrs. Moon and Kim in warm terms.
“Kim Jong Un thanked Moon Jae In for much effort made by him for the DPRK-U.S. summit scheduled for June 12, and expressed his fixed will on the historic DPRK-U.S. summit talks,” the North Korean report said, referring to North Korea by the abbreviation for its formal name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
The two Koreas also agreed to meet again for working-level talks on June 1, in a resumption of dialogue that Pyongyang had scuttled earlier this month, when it criticized South Korea for participating in an air force drill with the U.S., and for failing to muzzle a North Korean defector who has been critical of Pyongyang’s recent pursuit of dialogue.
Just days before the surprise summit at the DMZ, North Korea’s state media had lashed out at the U.S., saying that it wouldn’t participate in any summit with the U.S. focused on Pyongyang giving up its nuclear weapons while criticizing Vice President Mike Pence as a “political dummy.” The remarks were cited by Mr. Trump as the reason for the scrapping of the planned Singapore summit.
The tone from Pyongyang was markedly different on Sunday, in line with a conciliatory response from North Korea to Mr. Trump’s summit cancellation. On Saturday, Mr. Kim told Mr. Moon that they should work together to improve U.S.-North Korea relations, and thanked the South Korean leader for his efforts.
“The top leaders of the north and the south open-heartedly listened to each other’s opinions on the crucial pending matters without formality, and had a candid dialogue,” the North’s report said.
Photos and video released by the presidential Blue House on Saturday showed Mr. Moon in a bear hug with Mr. Kim, and of the two men wearing broad grins as they shook hands. They met at Unification Pavilion, a building on the north side of the military demarcation line, the South said.
Other photos showed Mr. Moon being greeted by Mr. Kim’s younger sister, Kim Yo Jong, and of the South Korean leader sitting across a table with Mr. Kim and Kim Yong Chol, a four-star North Korean general who has been a constant presence at his leader’s side in recent weeks. Mr. Moon was accompanied by Suh Hoon, the South’s spy chief.
Mr. Moon will share the details of the inter-Korean meeting Sunday at 10 a.m. Seoul time, said Yoon Young-chan, a spokesman for South Korea’s presidential office, in a statement Saturday evening.
The meeting was the second between Messrs. Moon and Kim in as many months, and the fourth in history between the leaders of the two Koreas. Kim Jong Un’s father, Kim Jong Il, met with South Korea’s presidents in 2000 and 2007, both times in Pyongyang.
Saturday’s summit showed that Messrs. Kim and Moon are both eager to keep the diplomatic momentum going despite recent setbacks, said Markus Bell, a lecturer in Korean and Japanese studies at the University of Sheffield in the U.K.
“Donald Trump has been flip-flopping on whether he’s going to get involved and move forward on a summit, and he’s given the window for North Korea to look like the levelheaded, rational actor,” Mr. Bell said.
Jenny Town, a research analyst at the Stimson Center think tank in Washington and managing editor of 38 North, a North Korea-focused blog, said Mr. Moon’s ability to hold a snap meeting with Mr. Kim highlights the willingness of both leaders to engage in back-channel diplomacy.
“They feel comfortable enough to have direct communication and to be able to meet on short notice,” Ms. Town said, adding that the body language between them underscored that.
Mr. Kim greeted Mr. Moon, she said, “like an old friend, instead of an awkward handshake.”
Mr. Moon had been a chief proponent of direct talks between Washington and Pyongyang, and said he was “perplexed” by Mr. Trump’s cancellation of the meeting.
Go Myong-hyun of the Asan Institute for Policy Studies, a private think tank in Seoul, said the two Korean leaders may also have been motivated by an attempt to stave off a return to U.S.-led pressure and sanctions against Pyongyang, as Mr. Trump said this week.
“The ultimate goal of this summit was to ensure that ‘maximum pressure’ doesn’t surface again in Washington after the cancellation of the U.S.-North Korea summit,” Mr. Go said.
Mr. Moon, eager to keep talks on track, was able to draw on his historically high domestic approval ratings to continue to push things forward with the North, even in the face of Mr. Trump’s calls for a return to “maximum pressure,” Mr. Bell said.
“Moon has positioned himself as the peacemaker, and he’s riding the wave of 80% approval to basically push forward his agenda to reach out to North Korea,” he said.
The message from Messrs. Moon and Kim, he added, was: “Why do we need the U.S. doing anything if Trump is going to oscillate between ‘fire and fury’ and sharing a hamburger with Kim? Maybe we should move things forward by ourselves.” (Wall Street Journal)