“We continue to prepare for a meeting,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in Washington as she confirmed that an American delegation was “in ongoing talks with North Korean officials” in Panmunjom in the DMZ, which separates the two Koreas.
The Korean leaders’ second summit in a month saw bear hugs and broad smiles. But their quickly arranged meeting Saturday appeared to highlight a sense of urgency on both sides of the world’s most heavily armed border.
The talks, which Moon said Kim Jong Un requested, capped 24 hours of diplomatic back and forth.
They allowed Moon to push for a U.S.-North Korean summit that he sees as the best way to ease animosity that had some fearing a war last year. Kim may see a meeting with Trump as necessary to easing pressure from crushing sanctions and to winning security assurances in a region surrounded by enemies. Moon told reporters that Kim “again made clear his commitment to a complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”
Moon added that Kim said he’s willing to cooperate to end confrontation and work toward peace for the sake of the successful summit with Trump. 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,” he said.
Despite repeated references to “denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula” by the North, it remains unclear whether Kim will ever agree to fully abandon his nuclear arsenal. The North has previously used the term to demand the United States pull out its 28,500 troops in South Korea and withdraw its so-called nuclear umbrella security commitment to South Korea and Japan. The North hasn’t openly repeated those same demands after Kim’s sudden outreach to Seoul and Washington.
Moon has insisted 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. Moon said Sunday that the North’s disarmament could still be a difficult process even if Pyongyang, Washington and Seoul don’t differ over what “complete denuclearization” of the peninsula means.
Before he canceled the summit, Trump did not rule out an incremental approach that would provide incentives along the way to the North.