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(News Focus) Trump-Kim DMZ meeting likely to have positive impact on inter-Korean ties, cooperation outlook

North Korea 17:43 June 30, 2019

By Koh Byung-joon

SEOUL, June 30 (Yonhap) -- Sunday's historic meeting between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un at the inter-Korean border is expected to provide much-needed momentum not only for their stalled nuclear talks but for inter-Korean ties, experts said.

Trump and Kim met at the border village of Panmunjom in the Demilitarized Zone separating the two Koreas, their third face-to-face meeting. After a handshake, Trump briefly crossed into the North, becoming the first U.S. president ever to set foot on North Korean soil.

The two came back into the South Korean side of the village and met with South Korean President Moon Jae-in before going into one-on-one talks behind closed doors at the Freedom House on the southern side of Panmunjom.

U.S. President Donald Trump (R) and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un shake hands as they meet at the Freedom House on the southern side of the truce village of Panmunjom in the Demilitarized Zone, which separates the two Koreas, on June 30, 2019. (Yonhap)

The talks between Kim and Trump took place amid the drawn-out stalemate in their nuclear talks following their no-deal summit in February. It also came as inter-Korean exchanges have been sluggish for months in the face of Washington's firm stance on keeping sanctions in place until the North's complete denuclearization.

"The DMZ meeting in and of itself is very meaningful in that it has reaffirmed the two leaders' commitment to denuclearization and the peace process on the Korean Peninsula, though details will likely be discussed in their future working-level dialogue," Kim Yong-hyun, a professor at Seoul-based Dongguk University, said.

"We can say that it will have a positive impact on inter-Korean relations as well. Once the denuclearization and peace process starts anew, it could generate a warm wind in relations between the two Koreas and serve as a lubricant in the process," he added.

Inter-Korean relations have been in limbo since the breakdown of the February summit between Trump and Kim, which ended without a deal as they failed to find common ground over how to match Pyongyang's denuclearization steps with corresponding measures by Washington.

Pyongyang wanted sanctions relief in exchange for the dismantlement of its Yongbyon nuclear complex but Washington wanted more than that before making such concessions as easing or lifting the sanctions on the North.

A prolonged stalemate in nuclear talks between the North and the U.S. has also taken a toll on inter-Korean ties as sanctions are standing in the way of Seoul's push to expand and advance their relations.

In contrast with last year when a whirlwind of cross-border contacts and exchanges took place after their leaders' three meetings, North Korea has been less receptive to Seoul's offers of cooperation and even talks in recent months, leading to limited progress in their major cross-border projects.

Seoul hopes that active cross-border exchanges will not only help advance inter-Korean relations by expanding the exposure to each other's people but also help mediate the resumption of talks between the North and the U.S.

Without answering Seoul's offer to cooperate in various fields, Pyongyang has beefed up its demand for Seoul to pursue exchange projects independently of Washington's push to maintain sanctions on its regime until its complete denuclearization.

U.S. President Donald Trump (L) and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un cross the Military Demarcation Line into the southern side of the truce village of Panmunjom in the Demilitarized Zone, which separates the two Koreas, on June 30, 2019. Trump became the first sitting U.S. president to step onto North Korean soil. (Yonhap)

Seoul hopes that Sunday's Trump-Kim meeting will lead to a breakthrough in inter-Korean relations and give it greater leeway in pushing for the resumption of inter-Korean economic projects, such as a now-shuttered industrial park in the North's border town of Kaesong and a tour program to Mount Kumgang on the North's east coast.

The Kaesong park and Mount Kumgang tours were hailed as successful inter-Korean economic cooperation projects but they were suspended in 2016 and 2008, respectively, amid chilled inter-Korean relations.

Seoul wants the two suspended projects to be restarted in the hope that it could facilitate the denuclearization process. President Moon and North Korean leader Kim agreed in their summit last September to resume their operations when conditions are met.

Washington, however, is opposed to any such full-blown inter-Korean economic cooperation for fear that it could undermine the global sanctions regime against Pyongyang when little progress has been made in their nuclear talks.

In a written joint interview with Yonhap News Agency and six other global news agencies on Wednesday, Unification Minister Kim Yeon-chul said that their resumption could be considered even before full-scale sanctions relief in order to facilitate the denuclearization process.

It is still unclear whether any meaningful cross-border economic cooperation could be launched or resumed any time soon as Washington appears firm that sanctions against Pyongyang should remain in place, experts said.

In a press conference after his summit with Moon on Sunday, Trump said that he is "in no rush" in denuclearization talks with the North and that "sanctions are on" against Pyongyang.

"Even though the Trump-Kim meeting at the DMZ might be short, it surely has created an important watershed moment in easing tensions on the Korean Peninsula," Lim Eul-chul, a professor at the Institute for Far East Studies at Kyungnam University, said. "But it appears to be hard for the two countries to narrow their differences right away."

"Sanctions will remain in place. It appears that the DMZ meeting has created an important point that will help start a change in inter-Korean relations. But chances are not high that it could lead to a major change in the short-term trajectory of relations between the two Koreas," Lim added.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in (R) meets North Korean leader Kim Jong-un (C), alongside U.S. President Donald Trump, at the truce village of Panmunjom in the Demilitarized Zone, which separates the two Koreas on June 30, 2019. (Yonhap)

kokobj@yna.co.kr
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