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North and South Korean leaders meet again in bid to save peace efforts

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, left, and South Korean President Moon Jae-in embrace after a meeting in the truce village of Panmunjom on Saturday, May 26, 2018.

COURTESY OF THE BLUE HOUSE

By KIM GAMEL AND YOO KYONG CHANG | STARS AND STRIPES Published: May 26, 2018

SEOUL, South Korea — The leaders of North and South Korea met Saturday for the second time in a month amid efforts to get a potential U.S.-North Korean summit back on track.

The meeting, which was not previously announced, underscored the importance South Korea’s president puts on efforts to peacefully resolve the crisis over North Korea’s nuclear weapons program.

Update | Seoul: North Korea committed to US summit, denuclearization

Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un had a candid exchange of opinions about their own peace efforts as well as the hoped-for meeting between Kim and President Donald Trump, according to Moon’s office.

Trump abruptly pulled out of plans to meet Kim on June 12 in Singapore last week, citing hostility in recent comments from the North. But he has since suggested he may reschedule the summit after welcoming a conciliatory response by Pyongyang.

Trump tweeted that if the summit happens, it will likely take place on June 12 in Singapore as originally planned.

The inter-Korean summit followed a much-heralded first meeting between the two leaders on April 27 as the longtime adversaries engaged in a flurry of diplomacy that reversed more than a year of rising tensions.

In the first summit, the two leaders agreed to pursue the “complete denuclearization” and a permanent peace settlement to replace the armistice that ended the 1950-53 Korean War.

The final declaration was short on details but did set up mechanisms of communication and measures to improve inter-Korean relations.

Saturday’s meeting lacked the fanfare of the first summit, which was broadcast live on TV and included a ceremonial tree planting and a walk in the woods.

Moon and Kim met for about two hours in a building on the North Korean side of the truce village of Panmunjom in the heavily fortified border that divides the peninsula, spokesman Yoon Young-can said.

Photos released by the presidential Blue House show the two leaders posing for photos, seated around a conference table and embracing after their meeting.

Both sides agreed that Moon would announce the results of the summit at a news conference Sunday morning, his office said. More details were not expected to be released before then.

South Korea, which brokered the talks between Washington and Pyongyang, was caught off-guard by Trump’s announcement Thursday that he was calling off the summit and expressed relief as the U.S. and North Koreans quickly adopted a warmer tone.

“We see it as fortunate that the embers of dialogue between North Korea and the United States weren’t fully extinguished and are coming alive again,” South Korean presidential spokesman Kim Eui-kyeom said in an earlier statement.

China, which is North Korea’s economic lifeline, also urged North Korea and the United States to “meet each other halfway” and “address mutual concerns through dialogue and consultation.”

Kim made his first trip abroad since taking power after his father died of a heart attack in 2011. He met with President Xi Jinping during that trip in March and during a second trip earlier this month.

Trump’s administration cited numerous factors in canceling the summit.

The breaking point appeared to be comments by a senior North Korean official criticizing Vice President Mike Pence last week.

But a senior administration official offered a more detailed explanation after Trump’s announcement on Thursday, telling reporters that “there has been a trail of broken promises that gave the United States pause.”

Those included the North Korean decision to cancel a planned high-level meeting with the South to protest joint military exercises held annually by Seoul and Washington, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The official also said the North Koreans failed to attend a planned meeting in Singapore to discuss summit logistics and refused to allow experts to attend the destruction of their main testing site.

“Instead, journalists were invited and we will not have forensic evidence that much was accomplished,” the official said.

Trump, however, was apparently swayed by North Korea’s response. Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kye Gwan expressed regret about the cancellation on Friday and said the North remained ready to meet with the Americans “at any time.”

Experts cautioned the two sides still face fundamental differences on how they define denuclearization.

Washington is seeking the complete and verifiable abandonment of nuclear weapons, while Pyongyang wants what it calls a “phased and synchronous” approach.

North Korea made strong advances last year, test-firing three intercontinental ballistic missiles and conducting its sixth and most powerful nuclear test.

gamel.kim@stripes.com
Twitter: @kimgamel

 

South Korean President Moon Jae-in, left, meets with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in the truce village of Panmunjom on Saturday, May 26, 2018.
COURTESY OF THE BLUE HOUSE

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