Trump Open to Second Kim Summit Despite Stalled Nuclear Talks
(Bloomberg) -- The White House delivered a whipsaw message to North Korea on Monday, announcing it’s ready to start planning a second meeting with Kim Jong Un just hours after President Donald Trump’s top national security adviser said nuclear talks were stalled.
Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters that Trump had received “a very warm, very positive letter” from Kim seeking a follow-up meeting. There’s no evidence Pyongyang has taken any meaningful steps toward eliminating its nuclear arsenal since the leaders’ first historic meeting in June in Singapore.
Earlier Monday, National Security Adviser John Bolton indicated the two nations were at a stalemate.
“We’re still waiting for them,” Bolton said in a speech to the Federalist Society in Washington. “Now, the possibility of another meeting between the two presidents obviously still exists. But President Trump can’t make the North Koreans walk through the door he’s holding open. They’re the ones that have to take the steps to denuclearize and that’s what we’re waiting for.”
The sudden turnabout illustrated how Trump has tried to keep the on-again off-again negotiations alive in the absence of a clear set of ultimate goals -- or even an agreed definition of “denuclearization.” Trump called off a trip to Pyongyang by Secretary of State Michael Pompeo last month, citing a lack of progress. But that appeared to change Sunday, when the president hailed the absence of nuclear missiles in a North Korean military parade as evidence that Kim is serious about eliminating his arsenal.
“This is a big and very positive statement from North Korea,” Trump tweeted. “Thank you To Chairman Kim. We will both prove everyone wrong! There is nothing like good dialogue from two people that like each other!”
In Seoul, South Korean President Moon Jae-in urged Trump and Kim to show a “bold determination” and take nuclear negotiations to the next stage. “I hope sincere talks between the U.S. and North Korea would resume soon,” Moon told a cabinet meeting Tuesday.
Moon, who helped broker the original meeting between Trump and Kim, said he would focus on nuclear issues during a visit to Pyongyang next week -- the first such trip by a South Korean leader in 11 years. The South Korean government is preparing to open a liaison office on the northern side of the border Friday.
Stephen Biegun, the U.S.’s special representative for North Korea, told reporters Tuesday in Seoul that it was important to maintain momentum in talks, the Yonhap News Agency reported. Biegun was visiting the region for the first time since his appointment and Trump’s abrupt cancellation of his planned Pyongyang trip with Pompeo.
Sanders said the letter from Kim, which Trump received Monday, won’t be publicly released unless the dictator gives permission. “The primary purpose of the letter was to request and look to schedule another meeting with the president, which we are open to and are already in the process of coordinating,” Sanders said.
The administration was encouraged by the parade, Sanders said, calling it one of the first in which the country wasn’t “highlighting their nuclear arsenal.” In the past, North Korea has used such pageants to show off its most advanced weapons including intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of striking the U.S.
On Sunday, almost half of the military parade was devoted to showcasing civilian efforts to build the country’s economy, the Associated Press reported. Foreign journalists in the North Korean capital posted Twitter photos showing parade floats with large slogans pushing economic development.
“We consider that a sign of good faith,” Sanders said. The letter from Kim “certainly showed a commitment to continuing conversations, continuing to work on the progress that they have had since their meeting,” she added.
Sanders declined to say whether the leaders’ second meeting would be in Washington, or if the U.S. hoped the summit would occur before the end of the calendar year. “We’ll let you know when we have further details,” she said.
Kim told visiting South Korean envoys last week that he wants “goodwill measures” North Korea has taken to be reciprocated and expressed frustration with skepticism about his commitment to end the country’s nuclear program. Kim pressed for a formal peace agreement to end the 1950-53 Korean War, according to South Korean officials who briefed the media after the trip.
U.S. and South Korean officials have been wary of signing a document that could legitimize Kim’s control over half the peninsula without more concrete concessions, particularly a timeline for denuclearization and an agreement defining the term.
Pompeo told a Senate Committee in July that North Korea continues to produce fissile material that could be used in nuclear weapons. U.S. satellite photos and other evidence show North Korea also continued to build intercontinental ballistic missiles in the weeks after Kim and Trump agreed to work toward denuclearization, according to a Washington Post report.
©2018 Bloomberg L.P.