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S. Korea, U.S. in close coordination over N.K. summits

All Headlines 11:01 April 16, 2018

WASHINGTON, April 15 (Yonhap) -- South Korea and the United States have engaged in a flurry of diplomacy as both sides prepare for historic summits with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, a phenomenon most recently demonstrated by the surprise visit of Seoul's top national security adviser to Washington.

Chung Eui-yong, the head of the presidential National Security Office, flew to the U.S. capital unannounced on Wednesday and met with his new U.S. counterpart, John Bolton, to talk about ways to ensure both summits are successful and to reaffirm their shared commitment to the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

Denuclearization -- by which Seoul and Washington mean the dismantlement of Pyongyang's nuclear weapons program -- is the goal of both meetings.

But the first meeting between South Korean President Moon Jae-in and Kim on April 27 could dictate the fate of U.S. President Donald Trump's own meeting with Kim in May or June.

"To me, one of the biggest indicators of whether this meeting will take place or whether it will be postponed will be the inter-Korean summit that takes place at the end of this month," Victor Cha, a former National Security Council official under George W. Bush, said during a recent forum. "Because I would imagine that coming out of that meeting, the South Korean president will want to brief the American president on how that meeting went and probably offer recommendation about whether we should go forward -- things look good, the light is green, or whether it's yellow or whether it's even red."

S. Korea, U.S. in close coordination over N.K. summits - 1

Coordination between the allies has therefore become even more crucial.

Starting this week, there will be regular meetings between the two countries' top diplomats in Washington on the issue -- South Korean Ambassador to the U.S. Cho Yoon-je and acting U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia Susan Thornton.

"The United States and our allies the Republic of Korea and Japan are committed to close coordination on our unified response to North Korea," a State Department official said in response to a Yonhap query about U.S. expectations for the inter-Korean summit.

The U.S. remains committed to achieving the complete, verifiable, and irreversible denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, and as Trump has said previously, there is a "brighter path" for North Korea if it chooses to denuclearize, according to the official.

If the inter-Korean summit is successful, South Korea will not only shape the direction of the U.S.-North Korea summit, but it could also gain greater clout in the politics of the region.

"The hinge in all of this is South Korea," Kurt Campbell, who served as the top U.S. diplomat for East Asia during the Barack Obama administration, told a forum last month. "South Korea's role and power in deciding the history of Northeast Asia, the future of Northeast Asia, is really on display.

"What I always encourage South Korean friends in these situations is that you have the ability to play the dominant role here," Campbell said. "What the next year or two could be about really is about South Korea coming of age as a major player in determining their own fate.

"If the president, President Moon (Jae-in), is careful and strategic and puts good effect in place, South Korea has the ability to drive many of the dynamics that are at work now in Northeast Asia," he added.

hague@yna.co.kr
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