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South Korean Leader Pushes Ahead on Plan to Meet Kim Jong-un

SEOUL, South Korea — President Moon Jae-in of South Korea sees a more urgent need to travel to North Korea next month and meet with its leader, Kim Jong-un, now that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s planned trip there this week has been canceled, Mr. Moon’s office said on Wednesday.

North and South Korea had earlier agreed to hold a third summit meeting in Pyongyang, the North Korean capital, next month. But Mr. Moon had hoped that Mr. Pompeo would first break a logjam in talks over denuclearizing the North, making it easier for him to push his agenda of increasing economic and other inter-Korean ties when he sat down with Mr. Kim.

Mr. Moon’s plan was cast into doubt after President Trump last Friday abruptly canceled Mr. Pompeo’s trip.

But on Wednesday, Mr. Moon’s office said he was intent on working as a mediator between Mr. Kim and Mr. Trump, just as he helped broker their first meeting in June.

“Now that North Korea and the United States remain deadlocked, a new South-North Korean summit meeting, if anything, will play an even bigger role in helping resolve problems and overcoming obstacles,” Kim Eui-kyeom, a spokesman for Mr. Moon, said Wednesday.

In Washington on Tuesday, Heather Nauert, a State Department spokeswoman, did not voice an objection to another meeting of the Korean leaders but reminded Mr. Moon of his repeated promise to keep any progress in inter-Korean relations tied to progress in denuclearizing the North.

American analysts have raised concerns that Mr. Moon’s eagerness to improve inter-Korean ties may undermine Washington’s efforts to apply “maximum pressure” on the North to denuclearize, although Mr. Moon’s aides called such fears unwarranted.

Mr. Moon’s office reaffirmed that he was keen to meet with Mr. Kim, doing so a day after Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said that the Pentagon had “no plans at this time to suspend” joint military exercises with South Korea. Coming only days after the cancellation of Mr. Pompeo’s trip, Mr. Mattis’s comments were widely taken as indicating that the Pentagon may revive the exercises.

After Mr. Trump met with Mr. Kim in Singapore, the United States and South Korean militaries nodded to diplomatic progress by suspending several of their major annual joint military exercises. North Korea has traditionally protested these drills, calling them rehearsals for invasion.

Both Seoul and Washington have said they have not decided about future exercises, including large-scale drills scheduled for next spring, indicating that it will depend on whether North Korea moves toward denuclearizing.

On Wednesday, the South Korean government played down the significance of Mr. Mattis’s comments, saying they reiterated an existing American-South Korean joint policy. It said there had been no discussion between the allies on whether and when to resume major military exercises.

In his meeting with Mr. Trump in Singapore, Mr. Kim offered a vague commitment to “work toward the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula” in return for Mr. Trump’s commitment to build “new” bilateral ties with North Korea and a “lasting and stable peace regime” on the peninsula.

But bilateral talks have since stalled over differences over how to carry out the deal, leading to the cancellation of Mr. Pompeo’s North Korea trip.

The latest hitch in the talks centers on the North’s demand that the United States join the two Koreas in jointly declaring an end to the 1950-53 Korean War, Suh Hoon, director of Seoul’s National Intelligence Service, told a closed-door parliamentary hearing on Tuesday, according to lawmakers who briefed journalists on it. North Korea is seeking an end-of-the-war declaration as a prelude to negotiating a formal peace treaty to replace the armistice that halted the war.

But Washington insists that before such a declaration is made, North Korea must make a declaration to dismantle its nuclear weapons, Mr. Suh was quoted as saying.

North Korea says, as it has for years, that it will move toward denuclearization only in “phases” and in exchange for “simultaneous” reciprocal concessions from Washington.

When Mr. Pompeo visited Pyongyang last month, North Korea accused him of making a “unilateral and gangsterlike demand for denuclearization.” It even shrugged off the significance of Washington’s decision to suspend military exercises with South Korea, calling it “a highly reversible step which can be resumed anytime.”

Source: NYT > World

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