US President Donald Trump pledged Thursday to complete a deal on denuclearizing the Korean peninsula together with NorthKorean leader Kim Jong Un, signaling that negotiations remain alive after weeks of an apparent deadlock.
“Kim Jong Un of North Korea proclaims ‘unwavering faith in President Trump.’ Thank you to Chairman Kim. We will get it done together!” Trump exclaimed on Twitter.
End to impasse?
The enthusiastic comments came 12 days after Trump summarily canceled a trip to Pyongyang by his top diplomat, Mike Pompeo, that aimed at getting the discussions on NorthKorea’s nuclear talks back on track three months after Trump’s landmark summit with Kim in Singapore.
In a statement on August 24, Trump said he was scotching Pompeo’s trip “because I feel we are not making sufficient progress with respect to the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”
He also slammed China as not helping with the effort to convince Pyongyang to halt its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile program.
“Additionally, because of our much tougher trading stance with China, I do not believe they are helping with the process of denuclearization as they once were,” Trump said at the time.
Thursday’s statements by the two leaders appeared to paper over differences the two sides have over what the current talks should focus on.
Pyongyang apparently wants to first achieve an official end to the seven-decade state of war with South Korea, while Washington wants to start immediately on the long process of denuclearization. Stephen Biegun, newly-appointed US envoy for the North, said last month Kim had promised “final, fully verified denuclearization” at the Singapore summit. But Pyongyang has slammed Washington for its “gangster-like” demands for complete nuclear disarmament.
Pompeo: ‘still much work to do’
The State Department announced Thursday that Biegun would travel to South Korea, China and Japan next week for talks on North Korea .
In New Delhi Thursday, Secretary of State Pompeo, the former US intelligence chief who heads the US negotiating effort, struck a sober note, saying there is still much work to do.
North Korea “is the only country that has commitments under UN Security Council resolutions,” he told reporters. “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,” Pompeo added.
Two Koreas to hold summit
The leaders of the two Koreas will hold a summit in Pyongyang in September, Seoul said Thursday, as Kim Jong Un renewed his commitment to the denuclearisation of the flashpoint peninsula.
The announcement of the September 18-20 summit - the third between the North’s leader Kim and South Korean President Moon Jae-in this year - comes as US efforts to dismantle Pyongyang’s nuclear arsenal have stalled.
The two leaders will meet in the North Korean capital to discuss “practical measures to denuclearise” the peninsula, South Korean National Security Advisor Chung Eui-yong told reporters. Chung on Wednesday flew to Pyongyang where he handed over a personal letter from Moon to Kim, as Seoul seeks to kick-start the diplomacy that led to the landmark June summit between US President Donald Trump and the North Korean leader.
The two pledged to denuclearise the Korean peninsula at the Singapore meeting but no details were agreed, and Washington and Pyongyang have sparred since on what that means and how it will be achieved.
However, in his meeting with Chung, Kim renewed his commitment to that goal, North Korean state media said Thursday. The two Koreas “should further their efforts to realise the denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula”, Kim was quoted as saying by KCNA.
“It is our fixed stand... to completely remove the danger of armed conflict and horror of war from the Korean peninsula and turn it into the cradle of peace without nuclear weapons and free from nuclear threat.”
Moon, who brokered the historic summit between Kim and Trump in Singapore, said he had “high hopes” for his next meeting with the North’s leader to achieve a similar feat.
“I have come to hope that it will kick-start dialogue between the US and North Korea for the complete denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula,” Moon said during meeting with his aides.
The upcoming summit between Kim and Moon may help break the months-long deadlock after the Singapore summit, said Lim Eul-chul, professor at Kyungnam University’s Graduate School of North Korean Studies.
“There is a still big gap between what the North considers sufficient goodwill gestures, like destroying its missile test stand or a nuclear test site, and what the US wants, including on-site verification by experts,” he said.
Narrowing the gap and rebuilding trust between Kim and Trump is key in the dialogue - if any - ahead, he said.
North Korea has demanded that Washington agree to formally end the 1950-53 Korean War, and accused it of failing to reciprocate “goodwill measures”.
But American officials and conservatives in the South are concerned such a declaration would weaken the US-South Korea alliance and deprive the 28,000 US forces stationed on the peninsula of their deployment rationale.
Kim dismissed such worries, Chung said, and told the South Korean delegation that a formal end of the Korean War would not be linked to the withdrawal of the US troops.
Professor Yang Moo-jin of the University of North Korean Studies said Kim sees the US agreeing to a formal end to the war as a “litmus test” to determine whether Washington is sincere in moving forward. “But the US... does not seem to be ready to accept the North’s demand”, he told.