South Korea’s special envoy to the North, Chung Eun-yong, met with Kim Jong-un in Pyongyang on Wednesday and said the North Korean dictator wants to denuclearize during U.S. President Donald Trump’s first term.
Chung said Kim professed “unwavering trust for President Trump” despite recent diplomatic tensions between the United States and North Korea.
“This trust, despite some difficulties surfaced during the negotiation process between the US and the North, will continue,” Chung said on Thursday, acknowledging the recent unpleasantness.
Chung added that during his meeting with Kim, the North Korean leader stressed that he has “never said anything negative about President Trump.”
Other North Korean officials and state-run media outlets have said negative things about a variety of other U.S. officials recently, prominently including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Denuclearization talks have been seen as effectively stalled out since Pompeo’s latest trip to Pyongyang was canceled a few weeks ago.
Reversing the defiant statements of his officials during that period, Kim said he was willing to accept “stronger measures” to dismantle his nuclear program and pressed for a formal conclusion to the Korean War in return, a peace treaty regarded by strategic analysts as a significant boon to North Korea at this point.
“He wanted to end some 70 years of animosity between North Korea and the United States and achieve denuclearization within President Trump’s first term,” Chung said of his conversation with Kim.
Chung’s top agenda item was arranging another summit meeting between Kim and South Korean President Moon Jae-in. He said a meeting in Pyongyang is now scheduled for September 18-20. He also announced North and South Korea will open a joint liaison office in North Korea’s Gaeseong industrial complex.
President Trump welcomed the news with a Thursday morning tweet:
Kim Jong Un of North Korea proclaims “unwavering faith in President Trump.” Thank you to Chairman Kim. We will get it done together!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 6, 2018
Pompeo, who is currently visiting India, was a tad less enthusiastic.
“It is the case that there is still an enormous amount of work to do. We haven’t had any nuclear tests, we haven’t had any missile tests, which we consider a great thing. But the work of convincing Chairman Kim to make the strategic shift which we talked about, for a brighter future for the people of North Korea, continues,” he said.
The question, as always, is whether North Korea is ready to do what it keeps talking about. The cynical view of Kim’s surprisingly upbeat comments to South Korean officials is that Kim is still making demands – he wants that Korean War peace treaty to boost his international prestige and make it harder for the international community to maintain harsh sanctions against him—while offering little more than promises and flattery.
Kim also continues using the term “complete denuclearization” to suggest he expects American nuclear forces to be withdrawn from striking range of North Korea—a tall order given the very long range of U.S. nuclear forces. He reportedly expressed some frustration to Chung that measures he has taken thus far, including decommissioning a nuclear test site in May, have not been taken seriously by the United States.
South Korea’s Yonhap News on Thursday quoted analysts who took Kim’s remarks as a positive sign. Dongguk University professor Koh Yu-hwan said it was significant that Kim has finally committed to a timetable for denuclearization, even though he was vague on exactly what he planned to do by the end of President Trump’s first term.
“North Korea also needs a cause to persuade its domestic people to denuclearize. In other words, the North may not move any step forward without a cause like a declaration of an end of the war. It seems that the North wants the South Korean government well aware of its intentions to persuade the U.S. in order to advance the overall process,” Koh pointed out.
Another professor, Kim Joon-hyung of Handong University, found it significant that Kim did not link his Korean War peace treaty proposal to the removal of U.S. troops from the Korean peninsula.
Yonhap’s analysts saluted the South Korean government’s role as a mediator in denuclearization talks and suggested North Korea might have pumped the breaks on Pompeo’s trips to Pyongyang to give South Korean officials an opportunity to remain involved in negotiations.