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(News Focus) Expectations mount over inter-Korean summit after Moon-Trump meeting in Washington

North Korea 11:45 April 12, 2019

By Koh Byung-joon

SEOUL, April 12 (Yonhap) -- Cautious expectations are growing for an inter-Korean summit to be held in the near future after the leaders of South Korea and the United States shared the need to maintain the momentum for dialogue to move the currently stalled denuclearization talks forward, experts said Friday.

President Moon Jae-in and his U.S. counterpart, Donald Trump, met in Washington on Thursday (local time) and reaffirmed their commitment to peacefully resolving the North Korea nuclear issue. Moon expressed hope for his fourth summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, and Trump asked him to share what he learns about the North's position.

Moon has hoped to play a role in bridging the gap in demands between the U.S. and the North that resulted in the breakdown of their second summit talks held in late February in Hanoi.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in (L) shakes hands with U.S. President Donald Trump during their meeting at the White House in Washington on April 11, 2019. (Yonhap)

"Preparations for inter-Korean summit talks will likely pick up speed after Moon's return home," Hong Min, a senior researcher at the Korea Institute for National Unification. "I think the North will likely accept such an offer considering the messages that the North has sent in recent days through its key party and parliamentary meetings."

He was referring to this week's politburo and plenary meetings of the North's ruling party in which Kim steered clear of making accusations against the U.S. The North's leader emphasized the importance of "self-reliance" and urged his people to follow through on the party's strategic line of economic development.

This signaled no major change in his nuclear policy following the collapse of the Hanoi summit.

"The North appears not just to be trying to keep the door for dialogue open but to be in desperate pursuit of it," Hong said. "Kim is sure to want to hear from Moon about his meeting with Trump. An offer for inter-Korean talks from Moon could also help shore up Kim's status and give him a necessary cause for his next steps, such as a possible resumption of dialogue with the U.S."

As expectations grow for yet another inter-Korean summit, speculation is mounting that the next meeting could take place at the border village of Panmunjom, and if held, it could be timed to coincide with the first anniversary of the two leaders' initial summit, held April 27 last year.

Moon and Kim met three times last year -- in April and May at Panmunjom and in September in Pyongyang. Kim promised to visit Seoul for their next summit at an early date.

In particular, the second summit in May was a brief meeting apparently hastily arranged to salvage Kim's first-ever meeting with Trump from the brink of collapse.

A few weeks later, Kim and Trump held their first-ever face-to-face meeting in Singapore at which they agreed to complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula in exchange for Washington's security guarantees.

Their subsequent nuclear talks, however, came to a screeching halt. The second summit, held in Hanoi in late February, fell apart without an agreement as North Korean leader Kim and U.S. President Donald Trump failed to find common ground over how to match Pyongyang's denuclearization steps with Washington's sanctions relief.

Pyongyang wanted major sanctions relief in exchange for dismantling its Yongbyon nuclear facility but Washington insisted on what officials described as "a big deal" that called for trading sanctions relief for the dismantlement of all of the North's nuclear and other weapons programs.

North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Choe Son-hui warned last month that the North could end its denuclearization talks with the U.S., saying that it will not give in to Washington's "gangster-like" demands. She added that the leadership will soon make an announcement on whether it will continue nuclear talks.

In this photo provided by Cheong Wa Dae, South Korean President Moon Jae-in (2nd from L) speaks with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un (R) during their summit at Tongilgak on the northern side of Panmunjom in the Demilitarized Zone on May 26, 2018. Next to Moon is South Korea's National Intelligence Service chief, Suh Hoon. To Kim Jong-un's right is Kim Yong-chol, a vice chairman of the central committee of the Workers' Party Korea and head of the North's United Front Department handling inter-Korean relations. (Yonhap)

South Korea has called for easing sanctions on North Korea by lifting restrictions on such suspended cross-border projects as an industrial park in the North's border town of Kaesong and tours to Mount Kumgang on the North's east coast, believing that they could incentivize the North to return to the negotiating table.

Seoul officials have recently been talking increasingly about "a good enough deal" and a need for an "early harvest," expressing hopes that the U.S. will soften its position on a "big deal" and meet the North halfway.

During the summit talks with Moon, however, Trump signaled no marked change in his stance on sanctions relief until the North's complete denuclearization, though he didn't shut out the possibility of smaller deals with Pyongyang.

"At this moment, we're talking about the big deal. The big deal is we have to get rid of the nuclear weapons," Trump said, adding Washington wants sanctions to remain in place, though he indicated that he could offer some economic concessions to the impoverished state at the "right time."

With Pyongyang and Washington apparently showing little sign of changing their positions, some experts doubt that the Washington meeting has raised the possibility of Moon meeting the North Korean leader.

"What is important for North Korea is what it could get from an inter-Korean summit at this point," said Woo Jung-yeop, a researcher at the Sejong Institute, a private think tank. "There is no clear evidence that Kim would think that it would be helpful to meet Moon in strengthening his leverage against the U.S. going forward.

kokobj@yna.co.kr
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