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This combination of the May 26, 2018 provided May 27, 2018, by South Korea Presidential Blue House via Yonhap News Agency, shows South Korean President Moon Jae-in, left, and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, right, during their meeting at the northern side of the Panmunjom in North Korea.
This combination of the May 26, 2018 provided May 27, 2018, by South Korea Presidential Blue House via Yonhap News Agency, shows South Korean President Moon Jae-in, left, and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, right, during their meeting at the northern side of the Panmunjom in North Korea. (South Korea Presidential Blue House/Yonhap via AP)

SEOUL, South Korea — North Korean leader Kim Jong Un will soon visit Seoul and Russia, and will likely meet with China’s president in Pyongyang, South Korea’s president said Thursday.

While Moon Jae-in expressed hope the diplomatic moves would lead to denuclearization and peace, Kim hinted at another motive of weakening what he called “vicious sanctions” against his regime.

The comments came as Seoul and Washington said they will make a decision this month on whether to conduct large-scale war games next year to facilitate talks aimed at persuading the North to give up its nuclear weapons.

Several joint military exercises have been canceled since an unprecedented summit between Kim and President Donald Trump on June 12 in Singapore.

The two Koreas have moved rapidly to improve relations despite slow progress in U.S.-North Korean nuclear talks.

Kim Jong Un said during his most recent summit with Moon in September that he would visit Seoul “in the near future.” That would make him the first North Korean leader to do so since the 1950-53 war ended in an armistice instead of a peace treaty.

Moon, the son of North Korean refugees who took office promising to pursue engagement with the communist state, was optimistic Thursday in a policy speech to defend his budget.

“The second North-U.S. summit is near at hand,” he said in a major policy speech, adding that Kim’s visit to Seoul “will also take place soon.”

Kim is likely to visit Russia and to receive a visit from Chinese President Xi Jinping “sooner or later,” Moon said, adding that a summit between the North and Japan was also possible.

“A historic starting point for mutual prosperity on the Korean Peninsula and in Northeast Asia is just ahead of us,” Moon said. “This is an opportunity that came to us like a miracle. This is an opportunity we must not lose.”

Moon has previously suggested the visit to Seoul would happen before the end of the year, but South Korean media have speculated recently that it would be pushed back to next year following another expected U.S.-North Korean summit.

‘Vicious sanctions’Kim Jong Un, meanwhile, stepped up his criticism of U.S.-led economic sanctions meant to punish his regime for developing nuclear weapons.

The North has repeatedly called for sanctions to be lifted as payoff for steps it has already taken toward denuclearization.

Washington insists it will maintain pressure on Pyongyang until more concrete measures are achieved.

“The hostile forces are foolishly keen on vicious sanctions to stand in our way toward promotion of people’s well-being and development and to lead us to change and submission,” Kim was quoted as saying during an inspection of a construction site.

“But they will be made to clearly see over time how our country that has built its strength hundreds of times defying hardship build its own country as a powerful nation,” he said, according to the state-run Korean Central News Agency.

China, the North’s economic lifeline, and Russia have recently called for the punishing measures to be relaxed as an incentive to keep the North at the table.

South Korean Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo said separately that the allies will review the issue of whether to cancel more exercises until Nov. 15.

“We will make a final decision on any major exercises next year before Dec. 1,” he told reporters Wednesday in Washington where he participated in an annual meeting to review the alliance.

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, meanwhile, dismissed concerns that the suspension of the drills was harming readiness, saying the allies were training together in other ways and would adjust as needed.

“We are not right now concerned with a loss of combat capability,” Mattis said.

“Clearly as we go forward we’ll have to make adaptations to ensure we don’t lose that capability, but right now again this is not a total suspension of all collaboration and military exercises,” he added.

The annual drills that include computer simulations and field training have always infuriated North Korea, which considers them rehearsals for an invasion.

U.S. and South Korean officials have insisted the exercises are defensive in nature.

But Trump called them “provocative” and “very expensive” when he first announced he was halting them after the Singapore summit.

Officials also sought to offer reassurances that the alliance remained steadfast amid speculation it faced divisions over how to approach the North.

gamel.kim@stripes.comTwitter: @kimgamel

chang.kyong@stripes.com

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