SEOUL -- The two Korean leaders on Saturday met for an impromptu summit at North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's request, South Korean President Moon Jae-in announced today.
The two leaders discussed their hopes for a U.S.-North Korea summit and their commitment to a denuclearized peninsula, North and South Korean officials said after the meeting.
Moon said he "wholeheartedly accepted" Kim's request to talk in person, and underscored the significance of the two leaders recognizing their need for communication and swiftly arranging a meeting without formalities.
"We agreed to communicate and meet frequently in the future as necessary, without hesitation," Moon said in a briefing today.
The rapidly arranged meeting between the two countries reflects how urgently the two leaders are trying to salvage the U.S.-North Korea summit, scheduled for June 12 in Singapore.
President Donald Trump on Thursday canceled his meeting with Kim. He later said, however, that both sides are "having very productive talks with North Korea about reinstating" it, leaving the door open for further negotiation, and the North Korean government has said that Kim is ready to talk to Trump "at any time."
Late Saturday, Trump again sounded a note of optimism, saying of discussions, "It's moving along very nicely. So we're looking at June 12 in Singapore. That hasn't changed. And it's moving along pretty well. So we'll see what happens."
Trump's press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, said after the Kim-Moon meeting Saturday that a White House team, led by deputy chief of staff Joe Hagin, still plans to travel to Singapore to make arrangements for the summit between Trump and Kim.
South Korea informed the United States about the Saturday meeting ahead of time, according to a senior White House official and another source familiar with the matter.
Moon told reporters today that Kim "again made clear his commitment to a complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula," and told the South Korean leader that he's willing to cooperate to end confrontation for the sake of the successful North Korea-U.S. summit. Moon said he told Kim that Trump has a "firm resolve" to end hostile relations with North Korea and initiate economic cooperation if Kim implements "complete denuclearization."
"What Kim is unclear about is that he has concerns about whether his country can surely trust the United States over its promise to end hostile relations [with North Korea] and provide a security guarantee if they do denuclearization," Moon said. "During the South Korea-U.S. summit, President Trump said the U.S. is willing to clearly put an end to hostile relations [between the U.S. and North Korea] and help [the North] achieve economic prosperity if North Korea conducts denuclearization."
Moon and Kim met at Panmunjom, the truce village in the demilitarized zone and the site of their first meeting in April, the first inter-Korean summit since 2007. The two met on the northern side of the line.
At the meeting, Kim thanked the South Korean president for his efforts to bring about the summit "and expressed his fixed will on the historic DPRK-U.S. summit talks," the North's official Korean Central News Agency reported, using the abbreviation for the country's official name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.
The report by the news agency marked the first time North Korea formally acknowledged there was a plan for Kim to meet Trump on June 12, and it appeared to confirm Kim's desire to negotiate face-to-face with the American leader.
Kim and Moon expressed "their stand to make joint efforts for the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula," according to the news agency. Kim also suggested that he and Moon cooperate "to improve the DPRK-U.S. relations and establish mechanism for permanent and durable peace," it added.
They agreed to have their top officials meet again Friday and to set up separate talks between their top generals.
In addition, the two Korean leaders discussed Saturday the implementation of the inter-Korean "Panmunjom Declaration." The two had signed the three-page agreement at their earlier meeting, stating at the time that "South and North Korea confirmed the common goal of realizing, through complete denuclearization, a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula."
TRUMP THROWS A CURVE
Moon's role as a facilitator for the Kim-Trump summit was thrown into doubt when Trump abruptly canceled the planned meeting.
In a letter Thursday that aides say the president dictated, Trump told Kim he decided to cancel the meeting because of North Korea's "tremendous anger and open hostility."
The letter came less than 12 hours after a North Korean official criticized Vice President Mike Pence as "ignorant and stupid" and a "political dummy" for comparing North Korea's fate to the "Libya model."
In 2003, Moammar Gaddafi gave up his nuclear weapons program in return for sanctions relief, and eight years later was overthrown and killed by rebel forces. North Korea views its nuclear weapons program as far more advanced than Libya's was when it struck its deal with Western powers.
In the letter, Trump objected specifically to a statement from senior North Korean diplomat Choe Son Hui that said it was up to the Americans whether they would "meet us at a meeting room or encounter us [in a] nuclear-to-nuclear showdown."
North Korea issued an unusually restrained and diplomatic response to Trump, saying it was still willing to sit for talks with the United States "at any time, [in] any format."
"The first meeting would not solve all, but solving even one at a time in a phased way would make the relations get better rather than making them get worse," North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kye Gwan said in a statement carried by the North's official Korean Central News Agency, which mainly targets an external audience.
Notably, the statement did not appear in Saturday's edition of Rodong Sinmun, which is the official mouthpiece of the North's ruling party and is widely read by North Koreans.
Trump, in response, kept the door open for a June 12 summit. Moon's Blue House then said that it was "carefully watching the progress," and that "it's a fortunate thing that the possibility of the North Korea-U.S. dialogue is still alive without being terminated."
Moon's government has worked for months to help set up the first meeting between the leaders of North Korea and the United States, where he hoped Kim and Trump would resolve a decades-old dispute over the North's nuclear weapons program.
It remains unclear whether Kim would ever agree to fully abandon his nuclear arsenal in return. Moon has insisted that Kim can be persuaded to abandon his nuclear facilities, materials and bombs in a verifiable and irreversible way in exchange for credible security and economic guarantees.
U.S. officials have talked about a comprehensive one-shot deal in which North Korea fully eliminates its nuclear weapons first and receives rewards later. But Kim, through two summits with Chinese President Xi Jinping in March and May, has called for a phased and synchronized process in which every action he takes is met with a reciprocal reward from the United States.
Koh Yu-hwan, a North Korea expert at Seoul's Dongguk University and a policy adviser to Moon, said Moon would try to persuade Kim to accept an alternative approach advocated by Seoul, in which the North's comprehensive commitment and credible actions toward denuclearization are followed by a phased but compressed process of declaration, inspection and verifiable dismantling. Before he canceled the summit, Trump last week did not rule out an incremental approach that would provide incentives along the way to the North.
Kim Joon-Hyung, who was a key foreign-policy adviser to Moon's presidential campaign, said Moon's supporters view him as the key figure willing to work with both sides to mediate and guide negotiations in hopes of a successful summit. He said that after Trump canceled the summit, negotiations were halted like a tennis match in which the ball was stuck in the net.
"The only person who can pick the ball from the net is Moon Jae-in, because he can connect the two sides and he doesn't have to keep his pride over it," he said.
"He is not being criticized as much by his supporters, even though he was disgraced by Trump's behavior" canceling the summit without alerting Moon, Kim Joon-Hyung added. "That tells you how much Koreans want peace on the peninsula."
Information for this article was contributed by Michelle Ye Hee Lee, Anna Fifield, Min Joo Kim, Seung Min Kim, John Hudson and Anne Gearan of The Washington Post; by Choe Sang-Hun of The New York Times; and by Kim Tong-Hyung, Hyung-Jin Kim, Catherine Lucey, Zeke Miller, Foster Klug and Matthew Pennington of The Associated Press.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s sister, Kim Yo Jong, greets South Korean President Moon Jae-in as he arrives Saturday on the north side of the border village of Panmunjom to hold talks with her brother.
A Section on 05/27/2018
Print Headline: Korean chiefs meet on how to revive talks