There seems to be renewed optimism that the summit between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un will go ahead as scheduled. Following the surprise meeting with Kim and South Korea’s Moon Jae-in, Trump said the date and location for the June 12 summit in Singapore “hasn’t changed” and that things are “moving along very nicely.”
Trump said there was “a lot of good will” between the parties and even made a mysterious mention of talks regarding the summit that were taking place near the White House, although he did not elaborate. “As you know, there are meetings going on as we speak in a certain location, which I won’t name,” he said. “But you’d like the location, it’s not so far away from here.” Trump spoke optimistically about a summit with Pyongyang mere days after he sent a letter to Kim on Thursday canceling the summit due to North Korea’s “open hostility.”
In what were his first public remarks after the surprise meeting, Moon said Kim “again made clear his commitment to a complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.” Moon added that he told Kim that Trump has a “firm resolve” to improve relations between Washington and Pyongyang, which could include economic cooperation as long as Kim moves forward with “complete denuclearization.” Still, Moon declined to define what “complete denuclearization” means, which suggests “there are still fundamental gaps on the key issue bedeviling preparations for the on-again-off-again summit between Trump and Kim,” notes the Washington Post.
For now Kim is apparently worried about whether the United States will keep its end of the bargain. “What is unclear to Chairman Kim Jong-un is not the will for denuclearization, but the concern that if [North Korea] denuclearizes, whether the US can end hostile relations and guarantee the security of the regime,” Moon said. Regardless, the two Korean leaders agreed that the summit between Kim and Trump must be held as scheduled. A report on North Korea’s official KCNA news agency says Kim “expressed his fixed will” on the “historic … summit talks” between the United States and North Korea.
South Korea is so eager for the talks between North Korea and the United States to move forward that it is discussing the possibility of sealing a non-aggression pledge and launch peace talks as a way to address any concerns Pyongyan may have about security, reports Reuters. Although initial reports had said it was Moon who had asked for the meeting after Trump sent the letter canceling the summit, it was actually Kim who asked for the sit-down “without any formality,” according to the South Korean leader.
The meeting Saturday between the two Koreas was a reminder that if the Kim-Trump summit does end up happening it will be in no small part thanks to the South Korean leader. “While Washington and Pyongyang have expressed their hopes for a summit through published statements, Moon has to step up as the mediator because the surest way to set the meeting in stone would be an official confirmation of intent between heads of states,” Hong Min, a senior analyst at Seoul’s Korea Institute for National Unification, tells the Associated Press. Analysts also say Kim’s desire to move forward with the talks hints at Kim’s determination to improve North Korea’s economic situation. The New York Times explains:
Still, his apparent willingness to continue diplomatic efforts does suggest that Mr. Kim, 34, may be under pressure to satisfy rising expectations in North Korea for economic gains and shake off the painful grip of sanctions.
While largely depicted as a nuclear provocateur in the outside world, Mr. Kim is determined to be the face of a modern and more open North Korea at home. He has erected new buildings and repainted old ones in Pyongyang, the capital, attended a concert by a South Korean girl band and let a state orchestra play American pop music.
Mr. Kim has also sent party officials to China to learn its economic policies, and has even admitted to other failures during his supposedly faultless leadership, like a botched satellite launch in 2012. When he met with South Korea’s president, Moon Jae-in, last month and invited him to Pyongyang, he asked Mr. Moon to fly there because North Korea’s roads and trains were in such “embarrassing” condition.