With Detente Looking Shaky, North and South Korea’s Leaders to Meet Again

(Bloomberg) -- North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and South Korea’s Moon Jae-in agreed to hold their third meeting this year, as they seek to preserve a detente tested by disputes between Pyongyang and Washington.

The two Koreas announced plans Monday for Moon to visit the North Korean capital next month, the first such trip since 2007. A joint statement issued after more than three hours of talks included neither a date nor a detailed agenda, other than to advance the agreement the two leaders reached in April during their historic first meeting at the border village of Panmunjom.

With Detente Looking Shaky, North and South Korea’s Leaders to Meet Again

“The South, together with the North, reviewed the progress of implementing the Panmunjom declaration, and discussed further methods to fulfill the declaration in a sincere manner,” the statement said. The document called for “establishing a permanent and peaceful Korean Peninsula peace regime” and “complete denuclearization.”

Moon will have a tricky balancing act at the summit: Maintaining momentum for inter-Korean dialogue while also nudging Kim to make progress on denuclearization with the U.S., an ally of South Korea. Since Kim met President Donald Trump in June, the two sides have failed to make much headway on eliminating North Korea’s nuclear weapons program.

With Detente Looking Shaky, North and South Korea’s Leaders to Meet Again

Lee Jong-seok, who served as Unification Minister under former South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun, said Kim needed a peace agreement with the U.S. to justify further disarmament gestures back home. The U.S., meanwhile, has sought more concrete steps toward dismantling the country’s arsenal before granting that key concession.

“It’s not a state of crisis with North Korea and the U.S., but it’s more of a deadlock in progress,” Lee said. “North Korea was going to use progress toward denuclearization as a strategy to demand a quicker declaration for the end of the war. Kim Jong Un didn’t know that it would be used against him.”

U.S. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo has pressed other countries to continue enforcing sanctions against Kim’s regime while seeking a concrete time frame for Kim to abandon his nuclear weapons. North Korea has rejected his approach, with state-run media lambasting the U.S.’s “pressure diplomacy” and saying it’s relying on “outdated gangster-like logic.”

The summit between Kim and Moon could set the stage for a second meeting between the North Korean leader and Trump -- the U.S. news site Axios has reported it may come during United Nations meetings in September. While the White House hasn’t confirmed plans for a second meeting, Trump tweeted on Aug. 2 that he looked forward to seeing Kim “soon.”

The challenge of scheduling such a meeting between Kim and Moon in September underscored the fraught history between the sides. North Korea proclaimed the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea on Sept. 9, 1948, and has previously marked the occasion with displays of military might, including nuclear detonations.

Moon’s spokesman, Kim Eui-keum, said Monday that holding a meeting in early September would be “practically difficult.” At the talks, North Korean unification chief Ri Son Gwon demurred, saying only that it would be in September.

“We didn’t tell you the date, so we can make the reporters curious,” he said, according to the Yonhap News Agency. “It’s all decided.”

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.