North Korean and American officials are holding “behind-the-scenes talks” to arrange a third summit between President Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un, South Korea’s president said on Wednesday.
Discussions on a possible meeting on the fate of the North’s nuclear arsenal come four months after a second meeting between the leaders in Vietnam collapsed without any agreement.
No public meetings between Washington and Pyongyang have been held since the breakdown of the Hanoi summit. But the prospects for a resumption of US-North Korea diplomacy have brightened since Trump and Kim recently exchanged personal letters.
Trump called Kim’s letter “beautiful” while Kim described Trump’s as “excellent” – though the content of their letters has not been disclosed.
In written answers to questions submitted by media, South Korean President Moon Jae-in said Trump’s and Kim’s “willingness to engage in dialogue has never faded” and their recent letter exchanges prove that.
Moon, a liberal who met Kim three times last year, has made dialogue with the North as a route to forging peace on the Korean Peninsula a centerpiece of his presidency. He has played a central role in facilitating US-North Korean negotiations.
Moon said he doesn’t see the Hanoi summit as a failure and stressed patience was needed to bridge a 70-year “sea of mistrust”.
He said he thinks the meeting served as a chance for both Washington and Pyongyang to better understand each other’s positions and “put everything they want on the negotiating table”.
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“The success of denuclearisation and the peace process on the Korean Peninsula cannot be determined by a summit or two,” Moon said, adding discussions in Hanoi will form the basis for future talks.
“Both sides clearly understand the necessity for dialogue,” he added.
Despite the deadlocked nuclear negotiations, both Trump and Kim have described their personal relationship as good. When asked whether Kim’s recent letter included a mention about another summit, Trump said, “May be there was.”
“But we, you know, at some point, we’ll do that,” Trump told reporters at the White House on Tuesday. “Getting along very well. He’s not doing nuclear testing,” he said.
In yet another reminder of North Korea’s continued mistrust of the United States, its foreign ministry said earlier Wednesday it won’t surrender to US-led sanctions and accused Washington of trying to “bring us to our knees”.
Kim has said the North would seek a “new way” if the United States persists with sanctions and pressure.
Following his setback in Hanoi, Kim traveled to Russia in April for his first summit with President Vladimir Putin. Kim also hosted Chinese President Xi Jinping in Pyongyang last week for their fifth summit since March last year, and analysts say the North’s outreach to its traditional allies is aimed at strengthening its leverage with the Trump administration.
Moon said he views the North’s expanding diplomacy with Beijing and Moscow as a positive development in efforts to resolve the nuclear standoff.
“China and Russia have continued to play constructive roles so far to peacefully resolve the Korean Peninsula issue,” he said. “I hope that China and Russia will play specific parts in helping the North resume dialogue at an early stage.”
Trump’s top envoy on North Korea, Stephen Biegun, is to visit South Korea on Thursday, and some analysts said he may use his trip as a chance to meet North Korean officials at a Korean border village.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Sunday the US was prepared to resume talks with North Korea “at a moment’s notice” if the North signaled it wanted discussions about denuclearisation.
Moon said the dismantling of the Yongbyon nuclear complex, which Kim offered in Hanoi, could mean the North’s denuclearisation process has entered “an irreversible stage” if it’s completely demolished and verified. He said “substantive process” in US-North Korea diplomacy could also help the international community seek a partial or gradual easing of UN sanctions.
Yongbyon has facilities to produce both plutonium and highly enriched uranium, two key nuclear ingredients. North Korea has called the complex “the heart” of its nuclear programme, while many outside experts say it’s an aging facility and North Korea is believed to have additional multiple secret uranium enrichment facilities.
“I think creating a security environment where Chairman Kim can decisively act on nuclear dismantlement without worries is the fastest way to achieve denuclearisation diplomatically,” Moon wrote, without specifying the security concessions Washington and Seoul could make.