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Kim Jong-un Says He Wants Denuclearization Before Trump’s Current Term Ends

SEOUL, South Korea — Offering an olive branch to President Trump, Kim Jong-un told a South Korean envoy that he wanted to denuclearize North Korea before Mr. Trump’s current term ends in early 2021, the envoy said on Thursday.

Expressing frustration over what he called Washington’s failure to negotiate in good faith, Mr. Kim told the envoy, Chung Eui-yong, that he still had confidence in Mr. Trump. He said he had never spoken badly of the American leader, even to his closest aides, since the two met in Singapore on June 12, according to Mr. Chung.

The president responded on Twitter early Thursday, expressing appreciation for Mr. Kim’s “unwavering faith in President Trump.” He added, “We will get it done together!”

Mr. Chung was sent by President Moon Jae-in of South Korea to Pyongyang, the North Korean capital, on Wednesday in hopes of reviving the stalled talks between the North and the United States over how to denuclearize North Korea. Mr. Moon plans to go to Pyongyang on Sept. 18 to meet with Mr. Kim and discuss improving the Koreas’ relationship, including potential economic cooperation.

At a televised news conference in Seoul, Mr. Chung said Mr. Kim had voiced frustration that his commitment to nuclear disarmament, which he expressed when he met with Mr. Moon in April and with Mr. Trump in June, was not taken seriously by much of the world. Mr. Kim said that while North Korea had already taken important steps toward denuclearization, Washington was not doing enough in return, Mr. Chung said.

“He strongly expressed his will to take more active steps for denuclearization if the actions North Korea has already taken are matched by corresponding measures” from the United States, Mr. Chung said.

“He made it clear that his trust in President Trump remains — and will remain — unchanged, even though there have recently been some difficulties in negotiations between the North and the United States,” Mr. Chung said. “He said he wished he could eliminate 70 years of hostile history with the United States, improve North Korea-U.S. relations and realize denuclearization within the first term of President Trump.”

Mr. Chung said Mr. Kim gave him messages to relay to Washington, which officials said were being sent to his American counterpart, John Bolton, Mr. Trump’s national security adviser. Mr. Chung did not reveal their contents, except to say that Mr. Kim wanted Washington’s assurances that he had not made a mistake when he committed to the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

Taken at face value, Mr. Kim’s remarks, as relayed by the South Korean envoy, signaled that North Korea was willing to strike a denuclearization deal personally with Mr. Trump, who has been more eager to engage North Korea than any of his predecessors. They also suggested Mr. Kim could accept the rapid denuclearization the Trump administration has sought — for the right incentives.

The Singapore meeting made Mr. Trump the first sitting American president to meet with a North Korean leader. He has since boasted of his “warm” relationship with the dictator, who has test-launched missiles capable of reaching the continental United States and been accused of gruesome human rights abuses, including the summary executions of his uncle and other political enemies.

Analysts said Mr. Kim was wooing Mr. Trump in hopes of dividing him from his hard-line advisers, in order to prevent the president from returning to the threats of military action that he made last year.

“Kim Jong-un is buying time,” said Lee Byong-chul, a senior fellow at the Institute for Peace and Cooperation in Seoul. “He probably saw that there was nothing good in provoking Trump,” especially when the American president “faces deepening legal trouble at home and disarray in his administration.”

The North’s state-run Korean Central News Agency said Mr. Kim had reaffirmed North Korea’s commitment to denuclearize during his meetings with Mr. Chung. But it fell short of saying whether Mr. Kim would take major steps toward that goal.

Mr. Kim has not offered to provide a full inventory of nuclear weapons and fissile materials, as Washington has demanded. Nor has Mr. Kim offered any detailed plan for disarmament.

He also repeated his country’s longstanding demand that denuclearization must include the removal of a “nuclear threat” to North Korea, a common reference to American military exercises in the region.

During their meeting in Singapore, Mr. Trump and Mr. Kim pledged to establish “new” relations and build “a lasting and stable peace regime,” while Mr. Kim agreed to “work toward complete denuclearization” of the Korean Peninsula.

But their diplomats’ negotiations have since stalled over differences on how to carry out that vaguely worded agreement. Mr. Trump, after boasting that he had largely resolved the North Korean nuclear crisis, abruptly canceled Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s planned visit to Pyongyang last week, citing a lack of progress in the denuclearization talks.

North Korea insists that it will move toward denuclearization only “in phases” and in exchange for “simultaneous” reciprocal concessions from Washington, a principle that Mr. Kim reiterated when he met with the South Korean envoy.

Mr. Chung said Mr. Kim brought up a series of confidence-building measures his country has taken this year, such as a moratorium on nuclear and missile tests, demolishing his country’s only nuclear test site and dismantling a missile engine-test facility.

He said Mr. Kim objected to the skepticism that had greeted those actions in some quarters, such as the suspicion that North Korea could reactivate its nuclear test site. Mr. Kim said the underground site had been so thoroughly destroyed that no more tests could be carried out there. Mr. Kim also said the facility for testing missile engines was the only one in the North, and that its removal therefore meant a “complete halt to tests of long-range ballistic missiles,” Mr. Chung said.

The most immediate reciprocal step North Korea wants from Washington is to declare an end to the Korean War, which was halted with an armistice in 1953.

But American officials fear that once such a declaration is made, North Korea will demand that the United States stop conducting joint military exercises with South Korea and withdraw its tens of thousands of troops based there.

Mr. Kim dismissed such concerns, saying that the declaration would “have nothing to do with” the South Korean-United States alliance or any withdrawal of American troops, Mr. Chung said.

Mr. Moon’s spokesman said Thursday that Mr. Trump, in a recent conversation with Mr. Moon, had asked South Korea to be “chief negotiator” between the United States and North Korea. But Washington has also repeatedly warned South Korea against improving ties with Pyongyang without tangible progress toward denuclearization.

Lee Sung-yoon, a professor of Korean studies at Tufts University, said that in its eagerness to improve ties, South Korea was coddling the North and exaggerating its willingness to denuclearize. He said Mr. Chung would take “happy” messages from Pyongyang to the White House and argue that Mr. Trump “can do business with Kim.”

Source: NYT > World

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