A copy of the Munhwa Ilbo newspaper featuring U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un on the front page is displayed for sale at a newsstand in Seoul, South Korea (Photographer: Jean Chung/Bloomberg)

Moon Lauds North Korea's Nuclear Offer, Splitting With Trump

(Bloomberg) -- South Korean President Moon Jae-in praised North Korea’s offer to dismantle a key nuclear production complex as an “irreversible” step to undercut its weapons program, breaking with the Trump administration.

In a meeting to discuss the summit last week in Hanoi between Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un, Moon on Monday lauded North Korea’s offer to dismantle the Yongbyon nuclear complex. He also called for pushing ahead with inter-Korean projects currently hindered by sanctions and said the two sides discussed the “partial” lifting of sanctions -- backing North Korea’s version of events.

“It would represent an irreversible stage in North Korea’s denuclearization if the Yongbyon nuclear complex including its plutonium reprocessing facilities and uramium enrichment facilities are completely dismantled,” Moon told senior aides Monday at a National Security Council meeting discussing the summit.

Moon Lauds North Korea's Nuclear Offer, Splitting With Trump

Trump and Secretary of State Michael Pompeo said they couldn’t accept the proposal from North Korea to shut down the Yongbyon complex in return for complete sanctions relief because the regime still had hidden production facilities and missiles elsewhere that could threaten the U.S.

“That facility, while very big, it wasn’t enough to do what we were doing,” Trump said last week in Hanoi, referring to Yongbyon.

‘Very Big’

Moon has endeavored to serve as a bridge between Trump and Kim, and has staked political capital on bringing peace to the divided peninsula.

Yongbyon, long at the heart of the reclusive state’s nuclear program, has seen its importance drop in recent years as North Korea turned to other secret facilities to produce fissile material for bombs and missiles that could carry a warhead to the U.S. mainland.

Trump said he was impressed that Kim was willing to lose a “very big” facility. But after the Hanoi talks broke down, he also said he had pressed Kim on other nuclear sites uncovered by American intelligence.

Moon Lauds North Korea's Nuclear Offer, Splitting With Trump

Trump also said in his closing press conference that Kim had insisted that sanctions be completely lifted. North Korea’s Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho later disputed Trump’s claim, saying Pyongyang only asked that United Nations sanctions imposed during 2016 and 2017 be lifted. A U.S. official later countered that those represent the most serious sanctions on the regime.

“We hope the two countries would continue dialogue and the two leaders would meet again soon to reach an agreement that has been delayed this time,” Moon said at the meeting on Monday.

Moon also again asked his staff and ministers to speed up agreed-to inter-Korean projects. A day after the summit, he said in a speech that South Korea will negotiate with the U.S. on ways to restart the frozen joint projects north of the border -- a mountain resort and a factory park where South Korean firms used North Korean labor to produce goods.

The facilities produce hard currency for North Korea’s cash-starved economy and need approval from various bodies including the U.S. Treasury and United Nations Security Council to open up again.

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