By Lee Haye-ah
WASHINGTON, June 11 (Yonhap) -- U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un demonstrated a renewed commitment to continuing talks over the North's nuclear weapons program as they approached the one year anniversary of their historic first summit in Singapore.
Trump revealed Tuesday that he had received a "beautiful" and "very warm" letter from Kim the previous day, the first known correspondence of its kind since the second summit in Vietnam in February ended without an agreement.
The president didn't disclose the contents of the message. But he reaffirmed his confidence in the North Korean leader and said Kim had "kept his word" not to test nuclear weapons or long-range missiles.
North Korea's short-range missile launches in May, he said, were "a whole different deal."
"I think the letter shows that North Korea is still interested in continuing diplomacy," Frank Aum, senior expert on North Korea at the U.S. Institute of Peace, told Yonhap News Agency.
He said a third summit is more likely than not but noted the need for "tangible demonstrations of flexibility" from both sides.
"And at some point, there needs to be a resumption of negotiations, whether at the working level or the Pompeo level, to convey and confirm the demonstrations of flexibility," he said, referring to U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
U.S.-North Korea negotiations effectively have grounded to a halt after the February summit, during which the sides failed to bridge the gap between U.S. demands for the complete dismantlement of Pyongyang's weapons of mass destruction programs and North Korean calls for sanctions relief.
Kim has since urged the U.S. to change its negotiating position before the end of the year and fired missiles in apparent frustration with the impasse.
The U.S., for its part, has seized a North Korean cargo ship suspected of carrying coal in violation of U.N. Security Council sanctions against the regime.
But both leaders have stopped short of openly provoking the other, leaving room for the resumption of talks, whose success or failure could shape their political standing at home.
"I see both sides at this point embracing a compromise deal where Kim gives up the entirety of the Yongbyon nuclear facility in exchange for two of the U.N. Security Council resolutions he wanted removed in Hanoi, as well as Trump's approval of several inter-Korean economic projects," said Harry Kazianis, senior director of Korean studies at the Center for the National Interest. "That is a win for all sides, and a smart step forward towards a peace regime the Korean people deserve."
Trump on Tuesday also appeared to assure Kim of U.S. security guarantees for his regime.
Speaking to reports that Kim's half-brother, Kim Jong-nam, was a source for the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency before his assassination at a Malaysia airport in February 2017, Trump said: "I know this, that the relationship is such that that wouldn't happen under my auspices, but I don't know about that."
Trump made a commitment to Pyongyang's security as part of an agreement with Kim at their first summit in Singapore on June 12, 2018. That deal also committed Kim to work toward the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.
Still, some analysts were skeptical that the exchange of confidence and warm feelings between the leaders will yield actual progress.
"I am looking for the resumption of working level dialogue between U.S. and North Korean senior government officials as evidence that the necessary preparations to hold a successful Trump-Kim summit are indeed occurring," said Scott Snyder, senior fellow for Korea studies at the Council on Foreign Relations.
Bruce Klingner, a former CIA deputy division chief for Korea, cast doubt on the entire diplomatic process that began early last year.
"Trump received numerous 'beautiful' letters in the past from Kim Jong-un, yet none of them led to any actual progress in denuclearization negotiations," he said. "North Korea rebuffs U.S. and South Korean attempts at working level dialogue, but may see engaging Trump as more likely to provide concessions to Pyongyang."
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