Washington/Seoul: President Donald Trump appeared to confirm that his summit with Kim Jong Un was back on, three days after he abruptly called off the historic meeting in a sharply worded letter to the North Korean leader.
“Our United States team has arrived in North Korea to make arrangements for the Summit between Kim Jong Un and myself," Trump said in tweet on Sunday afternoon, making no reference to his recent decision to pull out of the meeting.
“I truly believe North Korea has brilliant potential and will be a great economic and financial Nation one day," Trump added. “Kim Jong Un agrees with me on this. It will happen!"
The president’s reference to a bright future echoes recent remarks by secretary of state Mike Pompeo envisioning major investments by US companies and those of other nations if Kim ends his country’s pariah status by giving up its nuclear arsenal.
The State Department earlier confirmed reports that a US delegation is meeting with North Korean officials to prepare for the summit, which had been set for Singapore on 12 June.
“A U.S. delegation is in ongoing talks with North Korean officials at Panmunjom," State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a statement, referring to the truce village in the demilitarized zone between the Koreas. “We continue to prepare for a meeting between the president and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un."
Kim, Moon talk
Nauert provided no further details. The Washington Post reported that Sung Kim, a former US ambassador to South Korea, is leading the delegation and met Sunday with North Korea’s vice foreign minister, Choe Son Hui.
Sung, a South Korean born diplomat, is a former nuclear negotiator and current US ambassador to the Philippines. Allison Hooker, a Korea specialist on the National Security Council, is reportedly also part of the team. The meetings are expected to go through Monday and Tuesday, the newspaper reported, citing an unnamed person familiar with the arrangements.
The US has decided to hold off on implementing major new sanctions on North Korea while attempts to revive the summit are underway, the Wall Street Journal reported Monday. The White House was preparing to announced a ramped-up sanctions regime as soon as Tuesday, but decided on Monday to indefinitely delay the measures while talks are ongoing, according to a US official the newspaper didn’t name.
South Korean president Moon Jae-in held a surprise two-hour meeting on Saturday with Kim on the border in a bid to keep the Trump summit on track. Moon said on Sunday that Kim requested the meeting, only the fourth ever by leaders of the two countries since the Korean War.
Moon could travel to Singapore for a three-way summit with Kim and Trump next month, Yonhap News Agency reported Monday. The South Korean presidential office said later in a text message that Seoul is “just considering the possibility" of such a meeting and “at a working level."
“Chairman Kim clearly appealed once again that his intent to completely denuclearize the Korean Peninsula is firm," Moon said. “What’s unclear for Chairman Kim, in my opinion, is not his willingness for denuclearization but whether he can certainly trust the U.S. saying that it’ll end hostile relations and guarantee the security of his regime after his denuclearization."
Armistice to peace
During a phone call on Monday, Trump and Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe agreed to meet again to continue close coordination before the “expected meeting" between the US and North Korea, according to a statement from the White House. The two leaders—who met in April—affirmed their shared goal of achieving complete dismantlement of North Korea’s nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, and ballistic missile programs, according to the statement.
The White House said on Saturday that an advance team will travel to Singapore, the planned site of the summit, to continue preparations.
South Korea is reviewing ways to address North Korea’s security concerns, including converting the current armistice into a peace agreement, a senior Moon administration official said on Sunday. Moon reiterated a goal to hold a trilateral summit with both Trump and Kim to officially end the Korean War if their meeting is successful.
The second meeting between Kim and Moon in as many months reflects urgency among both men to maintain momentum for diplomacy. Since taking power last year, Moon has sought to facilitate dialogue between Trump and Kim to avoid the possibility of a devastating military conflict on the Korean Peninsula.
North Korea’s state news agency, KCNA, said the Korean leaders had agreed to “high-level" talks between the two countries on 1 June. “They shared the opinion that they would meet frequently in the future to make dialogue brisk and pool wisdom and efforts," KCNA said.
The main dispute between the US and North Korea boils down to how fast Kim should give up his weapons, and what he’ll get in return.
North Korea rejected outright calls from US national security adviser John Bolton to follow the so-called Libya model of quickly giving up its nuclear weapons before it gets anything in return. Libyan dictator Moammar Qaddafi was killed in an uprising several years later.
Moon on Sunday dodged a question on whether Kim clearly mentioned whether he would agree to the US demand for complete, verifiable, irreversible denuclearization.
“If North Korea and the U.S. are to have a summit, then their summit is possible only after they confirm each other’s intention on that regard," Moon said. “I’d like to say that the fact that North Korea and the U.S. agreed to have a summit and working-level talks indicates that the U.S. has already confirmed the North’s intentions."
Michael Hayden, who led the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the National Security Agency (NSA), said on ABC’s “This Week" that a summit is “more rather than less likely" to happen. But he and Republican senator Marco Rubio agreed it’s unrealistic to expect Kim to give up his nuclear weapons.
“I remain convinced that he does not want to denuclearize, in fact he will not denuclearize," Rubio, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations and Intelligence committees. “But he wants to give off this perception that he’s this open leader, that he’s peaceful, that he’s reasonable."
Rubio called Kim’s willingness to release US hostages and destroy a nuclear test site “all a show."