(Bloomberg) -- The leaders of North and South Korea met for two hours Saturday in a surprise meeting to discuss ways to salvage the canceled summit between Kim Jong Un and Donald Trump, and the two countries plan additional talks this week.
Meanwhile, a White House team will travel to Singapore as earlier planned to continue preparations for the on-again, off-again Trump-Kim meeting.
Kim met South Korean President Moon Jae-in at the truce village of Panmunjom along their border, and had a candid discussion about the potential U.S.-Korea meeting, Moon’s office said in text message. Moon, who met with Trump at the White House earlier this week, will brief the media at 10 a.m. Sunday, his office said.
North Korea’s state news agency, KCNA, later said the Korean leaders had agreed to “high-level” talks between the two countries on June 1. “They shared the opinion that they would meet frequently in the future to make dialogue brisk and pool wisdom and efforts,” KCNA said.
The unexpected summit -- the second between Kim and Moon in as many months, and just the fourth between leaders of the two countries since the Korean War -- reflects urgency among both men to maintain momentum for diplomacy.
Trump on Thursday canceled a meeting with Kim over what he called “open hostility” from North Korea, only to suggest a day later that it may proceed as scheduled after a conciliatory statement from Pyongyang.
“We are having very productive talks with North Korea about reinstating the Summit which, if it does happen, will likely remain in Singapore on the same date, June 12th, and, if necessary, will be extended beyond that date,” Trump said in a tweet late Friday.
In that vein, the White House pre-advance team for the on-again, off-again meeting will travel to Singapore as scheduled “in order to prepare should the summit take place,” press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in an emailed statement on Saturday.
The president rejected suggestions that members of his foreign policy team were at odds on how to approach North Korea.
“Unlike what the Failing and Corrupt New York Times would like people to believe, there is ZERO disagreement within the Trump Administration as to how to deal with North Korea...and if there was, it wouldn’t matter,” Trump tweeted on Saturday.
In a follow-up tweet, the president derided the newspaper for quoting “‘a senior White House official,’ who doesn’t exist” saying that a June 12 summit date was be impossible because of the amount of planning still needed. The comment was made Thursday by an administration official during a briefing on North Korea that reporters requested be on the record, but were turned down by the White House.
Moon on Saturday crossed the border to meet Kim at the Tongilgak building in an area of Panmunjom controlled by North Korea. They discussed the potential Trump-Kim summit and ways to implement a peace declaration they signed during their first meeting on April 27, according to the text from the president’s office.
Since taking power last year, Moon has sought to facilitate dialogue between Trump and Kim to avoid the possibility of a devastating military conflict on the Korean Peninsula. He had said the summit cancellation was “very regrettable” and called for “a more direct and closer conversation” to get everyone on the same page.
The main dispute between the U.S. and North Korea boils down to how fast Kim should give up his weapons, and what he’ll get in return. North Korea rejected outright calls from U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton to quickly give up its nuclear weapons before it gets anything in return.
“Moon would know clearly that without reaching an advanced level of agreement on denuclearization, it’s all meaningless to meet Kim at this point,” said Shin Beomchul, director at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies’ Center for Security and Unification. “Kim probably told Moon that he’s willing to take Trump’s denuclearization model, though it’s still unclear what exactly that is.”
The White House has signaled flexibility over the details of denuclearization. Sanders said earlier this month that the administration will follow the “President Trump model.” North Korea seized on that in a statement on Friday calling for talks with the U.S.
North Korea “inwardly highly appreciated” Trump for agreeing to the summit, and hoped the “Trump formula” would help lead to a deal between the adversaries, First Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kye Gwan said in a statement Friday urging the resumption of talks.
Trump’s letter to Kim canceling the planned June 12 summit didn’t rule out a meeting in the future, said a person familiar with the administration’s thinking. The person, who asked not to be identified discussing internal matters, said the “maximum pressure” campaign to strangle North Korea’s economy is working, and Kim’s regime will have to come to the table eventually.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tweeted on Saturday to “Stay Focused. It’s about the outcome. It’s about keeping Americans and the world safe.”
China’s Vice President Wang Qishan was encouraged by the continuing exchanges between the U.S. and North Korea. China is North Korea’s biggest trading partner and fought with Pyongyang during the Korean War.
“Both sides still leave some maneuver for a discussion,” Wang said Friday on a panel at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum in Russia. “So I’m confident that peace and security on the Korean Peninsula can be maintained. And it’s between North Korea and the U.S. right now. And a summit is needed to achieve a breakthrough.”
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