South Korean Unification Minister: Gap Between U.S., North Korea ‘Quite Significant’

Cho Myoung-gyon
AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon

South Korean Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon warned in remarks Wednesday that, despite continued planning for a summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un, “quite significant” disagreements remain between the two sides.

Cho contended that it would be a formidable diplomatic challenge to “narrow the gap” between what Kim wants – which is guarantees that America will not advocate for a free North Korea – and what Trump wants, which is an end to North Korea’s incessant threats to use nuclear weapons against the U.S. and its allies. He nonetheless remained optimistic that “common ground” was possible now that North Korea was once again attending scheduled meetings with American representatives.

Cho’s comments follow hints from South Korea’s government that leftist President Moon Jae-in was interested in participating in the Kim-Trump summit, scheduled for June 12. President Trump sent a letter to Kim last week canceling the summit, but diplomats on both sides have continued, with Trump’s blessing, to work towards making that summit happen on time. The two have agreed to meet in Singapore if the summit happens.

Cho was speaking at an event in Seoul, according to the South Korean news service Yonhap.

“I can say that the differences in stances between North Korea and the U.S. remain quite significant. It will not be easy to narrow the gap and find common ground but I think it would not be impossible,” he said. “Now that the leaders of the two countries are engaging in talks in a top-down manner, I think the chances are high that common ground can be found.”

Yonhap notes that Cho suggested that North Korea’s top priority in engaging Washington is “regime security,” an end to the United States advocating for a free North Korea. Kim Jong-un – and his father and grandfather before him – have consistently argued that the reason Pyongyang needs nuclear weapons is that, without them, North Korea could not deter a military invasion by the United States. The Korean War, while in a stalemate, never officially ended, and North Korea has continued throughout the decades to treat America as a military foe.

“I can say that we have just entered the gate of denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” Cho told those at the event. “There will be many challenges that need to be overcome.”

Cho’s remarks that Kim fears that Trump will not yield to his demand of guaranteeing that the United States will support his communist tyranny echo those of his boss, President Moon, who told reporters following an impromptu meeting with Kim this weekend that the dictator fears the collapse of his regime following an end to his nuclear threats.

“I think what worries Chairman Kim is whether or not he could have complete trust in the U.S.’s promise that it will end its hostile relations with the North and guarantee its regime’s safety if he carried out denuclearization,” Moon said, according to South Korea’s Joongang Ilbo. “On the other hand, President Trump made it clear to me during our summit [in Washington last Tuesday] not only would he end the confrontational relation with the North should it choose denuclearization, but the U.S. was willing to help it to achieve economic prosperity.”

A senior official suggested to Yonhap on Monday that Moon would like to be invited to a Kim-Trump summit.

“The discussions are just getting started, so we are still waiting to see how they come out, but depending on their outcome, the president could join President Trump and Chairman Kim in Singapore,” the official reportedly said. He or she added that Moon had reportedly proposed such a summit to Kim in person during their first meeting on April 27.

Both meetings occurred in the border town of Panmunjom.

The latter meeting followed the publication of a letter Trump sent to Kim telling him their summit was canceled. Following that news, Moon said he was “baffled” at the letter, while his officials said they were “trying to find out what President Trump meant.”

Trump has since appeared to accept the June 12 date for the meeting once again. North Korean envoys, including the high-ranking official and U.S.-sanctioned terrorist Kim Yong-chol, are on their way to New York at press time to meet Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and discuss logistics for the Singapore meeting. American officials are also reportedly en route to Singapore for separate meeting with North Korean officials.

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