Leftist South Korean President Moon Jae-in claimed in an interview published Wednesday that North Korea and the United States have engaged in “behind-the-scenes” talks for a third summit between President Donald Trump and dictator Kim Jong-un.
Moon went on to allege the two countries have reached a mutually agreed definition for “denuclearization,” the core dispute that has prevented North Korea and the United States from reaching an agreement that would end the over 65-year-old Korean War.
North Korea defines “denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula” as the removal of American troops from the region, as the United States is a nuclear power. When the American government refers to denuclearization, it is suggesting an end to North Korea’s illegal nuclear weapons program, which Pyongyang regularly uses to threaten attacks on America, Japan, and other enemies of the communist state.
In his remarks, Moon also said that the last summit between Trump and Kim – in Hanoi, Vietnam, last February – was not “a failure even though an agreement could not be reached” because it guaranteed that dialogue remained an option between the two states.
Moon gave an extensive “written interview” to multiple international outlets Wednesday, including Reuters, Russia’s TASS news agency, China’s Xinhua, the Associated Press, and South Korea’s Yonhap.
Yonhap published an English translation of Moon’s remarks in full.
“First and foremost, I want to highlight the fact that, even though there has been no official dialogue between North Korea and the United States since the Hanoi summit, their leaders’ willingness to engage in dialogue has never faded,” Moon told reporters. “Moreover, both sides have been engaged in dialogue in regard to a third summit. It’s noteworthy that the behind-the-scenes talks have been preceded by the mutual understanding of each other’s position gained through the Hanoi summit.”
The Hanoi summit ended abruptly with Trump walking out, claiming that the North Korean team’s demands were absurd and made it impossible for dialogue to continue. Specifically, Trump said that Kim wanted relief from international sanctions placed on North Korea in response to its illegal nuclear program, but did not offer to dismantle the program. Reports citing officials with knowledge of the summit later revealed that Kim wanted Trump to recognize North Korea as a nuclear power during those talks and for the United States to send “famous basketball players” to Pyongyang for Kim’s entertainment. North Korean officials disputed the claim that they wanted sanctions relief for free, claiming they were open to shutting down the Yongbyon Nuclear Scientific Research Center – where the regime enriches uranium.
Following the summit, North Korea demanded Trump fire Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Kim accused Trump of acting in “bad faith” and proclaimed, “the United States will not be able to move us one iota nor get what it wants at all, even if it sits with us a hundred times, a thousand times.”
Moon contended not only was it possible for the United States to move North Korea, it already had at the Hanoi summit.
“There has already been considerable headway made in the peace process on the Korean Peninsula, and it is still making steady progress. The resumption of negotiations between North Korea and the United States will take it to the next level,” Moon said. He continued:
When assessing the Hanoi summit, I don’t see it as a failure even though an agreement could not be reached. The success of denuclearization and the peace process on the Korean Peninsula cannot be determined by a summit or two. The Hanoi summit served as a chance for both North Korea and the United States to put everything they want on the negotiating table for candid discussions and come to better understand one another. What was discussed at the Hanoi summit will become the basis for the next phase of negotiations. Both sides clearly understand the necessity for dialogue.
Neither North Korea nor America have offered any public indication they are interested in a third Trump-Kim summit. The two world leaders have recently exchanged friendly letters, however, precipitated by the occasion of Trump’s birthday. Trump called the letter Kim sent him “beautiful” and “very warm, very nice.” This week, North Korean media confirmed that Kim had received an “excellent” response from Trump.
Multiple American and South Korean media outlets have floated the possibility that Trump may visit the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), the border between the two countries, during his visit to South Korea following the G20 summit in Japan this weekend. Some have speculated that Kim might join him.
Moon also claimed that the two sides “have already reached an agreement on the ultimate goal of denuclearization talks” which, if true, would be a major breakthrough. “In summary, North Korea’s complete denuclearization was to be exchanged for a security guarantee for the North’s regime and an end to their hostile relations. This agreement is still valid.”
The disagreement over what “denuclearization” means and what the objective of having talks at all is has been arguably the largest obstacle blocking Washington and Pyongyang from peace. In February, shortly before the Hanoi summit, State Department special envoy for North Korea Stephen Biegun admitted to reporters that the two countries “do not have a specific and agreed definition of what final, fully verified denuclearisation or comprehensive, verifiable, irreversible denuclearisation – whatever your preferred term of art – is.” At the time, he noted that the North Koreans kept boasting of the shutdown of the Punggye-ri Nuclear Test Site, which he described as “not [a] critical part” of the nation’s nuclear program and many experts believed had already been damaged beyond repair.
Moon also said that South Korea was in the process of scheduling a summit between himself and Kim and had kept the lines of communication open. He commended Kim’s “unequivocal resolve” to choose “economic development instead of a nuclear arsenal.” He urged Japan to join in attempting to normalize relations with North Korea, as well, claiming that friendly relations between the two “is a must in the process of establishing peace on the Korean Peninsula.”
“My Government supports the Japanese Government’s stance of pursuing dialogue with the North without preconditions and will actively provide support and cooperate to ensure that a North Korea-Japan summit takes place,” Moon said.
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