Hanoi/Washington: US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un might declare a formal end to the Korean War during their summit this week, South Korea said, as the US leader played down the prospects of giving Pyongyang sanctions relief.
The two leaders could reach an agreement on how to resolve the 1950-53 conflict as part of their meeting scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday in Hanoi, South Korean presidential spokesman Kim Eui-keum told reporters Monday.
A peace declaration would be the first step toward a treaty to replace the ceasefire among the US-led United Nations forces, North Korea and China.
“I believe the possibility is open," the presidential spokesman said in Seoul. “There is no way of knowing what kind of a declaration it might be, but I believe the US and North Korea may reach an agreement on the declaration of war’s end at any degree."
While North Korea has long sought a peace declaration, the US has balked at the demand, which could undercut the rationale for keeping some 28,500 troops on the peninsula. Speculation that Trump might be warming to such a statement increased after he pledged to cease “endless wars" in his State of the Union speech this month and the US’s top negotiator said the president was “ready to end this war. It is over. It is done."
It remains to be seen what Trump could gain from making such a concession in his second meeting with Kim Jong Un. North Korea has made no concrete commitments to give up its nuclear weapons program since the two leaders agreed in June to “work toward complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula" without defining the term or agreeing to a timetable.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in said during a cabinet meeting Monday that he hoped the summit would provide a “real beginning" to the negotiations. “If Trump succeeds in ending the last piece of the Cold War system, it will leave a great accomplishment that will be marked in world history," Moon said.
A statement declaring peace would probably be only a starting point for formal negotiations on a treaty. Those talks would presumably include China, which fought on North Korea’s side in the war, as well as South Korea and the United Nations.
Kim was traveling by train through China and expected to get to Vietnam by Tuesday. Trump was slated to arrive later and hold meetings with local officials on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, Trump said ahead of the meeting that he didn’t expect to lift sanctions on Kim’s regime. “I’m not pushing for speed, but we’re not removing the sanctions," he told US governors gathered at the White House on Sunday.
Kim has made little secret that his key goal for the meeting in Hanoi is to ease sanctions that are choking North Korea’s economy. Trump fed expectations of relief with comments Wednesday that he would “love to be able to" lift sanctions, provided he got “something that’s meaningful".
The Trump administration had previously insisted sanctions would remain in place until the “final, fully verified denuclearization of North Korea". Trump said the US had a “chance for total denuclearization," but added that he didn’t feel a sense of urgency if North Korea continued to refrain from testing nuclear weapons and missiles.
“I’m not in a rush," Trump said. “As long as there’s no testing, we’re happy."
Bloomberg's John Boudreau contributed to this story.