North and South Korean leaders hold surprise US summit discussions | World news
The North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, met his South Korean counterpart on Saturday, two days after Donald Trump cancelled a planned summit with Kim.
South Korean president Moon Jae-in crossed into the north at the border village of Panmunjom, where the two met for the first time in April, according to Moon’s office. The two leaders discussed the potential US-North Korea summit, which Trump cancelled on Thursday, as well as implementing the joint statement that was released at the end of their earlier summit.
The surprise meeting highlighted Moon’s efforts to get the historic summit back on track, and showed inter-Korea relations are in a far better state than those between Washington and Pyongyang. On Friday, Trump made a partial climbdown, saying the summit could still be held in Singapore on 12 June if conditions are right.
Photos released by the South Korean presidential office showed the two leaders embracing, shaking hands amid opulent decor and holding intimate discussions, accompanied by just a single aide each. Moon is expected to announce further details of the meeting on Sunday morning.
In their first summit in April, Kim and Moon announced vague aspirations for a nuclear-free Korean peninsula and permanent peace, which Seoul has tried to sell as a meaningful breakthrough to set up the summit with Trump.
But relations chilled in recent weeks, with North Korea canceling a high-level meeting over South Korea’s participation in regular military exercises with the US and insisting that it will not return to talks unless its grievances are resolved.
South Korea, which brokered the talks between Washington and Pyongyang, was caught off guard by Trump’s abrupt cancellation of the summit, in which he cited hostility in recent North Korean comments. Moon said Trump’s decision left him “perplexed” and was “very regrettable”. He urged Washington and Pyongyang to resolve their differences through “more direct and closer dialogue between their leaders”.
Trump’s back-and-forth over his summit plans has exposed the fragility of Seoul as an intermediary and fanned fears in South Korea that the country may lose its voice between a rival intent on driving a wedge between Washington and Seoul and a US president who thinks less of the traditional alliance with Seoul than his predecessors.
Trump’s decision to pull out of the summit came just days after he hosted Moon in a White House meeting where he cast doubts on the Singapore meeting but offered no support for continued inter-Korean progress, essentially ignoring the North’s recent attempts to coerce the South.
In his letter to Kim cancelling the summit, Trump objected specifically to a statement from senior North Korean diplomat Choe Son Hui. She referred to vice-president Mike Pence as a “political dummy” for earlier comments on North Korea and said it was up to the Americans whether they would “meet us at a meeting room or encounter us at nuclear-to-nuclear showdown”.
North Korea issued an unusually restrained and diplomatic response, saying it’s still willing to sit for talks with the US “at any time, (in) any format”.
“The first meeting would not solve all, but solving even one at a time in a phased way would make the relations get better rather than making them get worse,” North Korean vice-foreign minister Kim Kye Gwan said in a statement carried by Pyongyang’s official Korean Central News Agency, which mainly targets external audiences.
Notably, the statement did not appear in Saturday’s edition of Rodong Sinmun, the official mouthpiece of the North’s ruling party. The newspaper instead focused on Kim Jong-un’s visit to the coastal town of Wonsan to inspect the construction of a beachfront tourist complex.
Kim ordered the complex to be finished by 15 April next year, to mark the birthday of his late grandfather and North Korea founder Kim Il-sung. Kim Jong-un’s comments published by the newspaper did not include any mention of his potential meeting with Trump.
Analysts say Kim’s diplomatic outreach in recent months after a flurry of nuclear and missile tests in 2017 indicates he is eager for sanctions relief to build his economy and the international legitimacy the summit with Trump would provide. But there is also skepticism whether Kim will ever agree to fully relinquish his nuclear arsenal, which he likely sees as his only guarantee of survival.
Comments in North Korea’s state media indicate Kim sees any meeting with Trump as an arms control negotiation between nuclear states, rather than a process to surrender his weapons. The North has said it will refuse to participate in talks where it would be unilaterally pressured to give up its nuclear arsenal.