South Korea's Moon Warns Implementing Kim Deal Will Be Hard

(Bloomberg) -- South Korean President Moon Jae-in said he saw no difference with North Korea on key concepts such as denuclearization, but cautioned that implementing any deal with Kim Jong Un would be difficult.

“As everybody worries, what specifically needs to done to meet these goals is not easy,” Moon told a gathering of media executives Thursday in Seoul. “We can’t repeat what was done in the past and should find new ways. We also need consensus among all relevant parties to call the summits a success.”

South Korea's Moon Warns Implementing Kim Deal Will Be Hard

Moon said the North Koreans weren’t demanding things that the U.S. couldn’t accept as a condition of giving up their weapons, such as the withdrawal of American troops from South Korea. He said both sides should “eventually” declare an end to their 68-year war, which has left generations of Koreans divided by a militarized border.

“I don’t think the two Koreas have different definitions of ‘denuclearization.’ North Korea is committed to complete denuclearization,” Moon said. “All it’s asking for is to end hostile policies against North Korea and guarantee the safety of its regime.”

Moon was speaking just over a week before his expected April 27 meeting with Kim in the demilitarized zone, an encounter that may lay the ground for an unprecedented summit between the North Korean leader and U.S. President Donald Trump. CIA Director Mike Pompeo returned from a secret trip to Pyongyang earlier this month to prepare for the summit and U.S. officials are narrowing down potential sites.

The speech to media executives -- including newspapers whose editorial pages have been critical of Moon’s North Korea policies, such as Chosun Ilbo and DongA Ilbo -- appeared to be an effort to tamp down expectations before the pivotal summits. While Moon has sustained high popularity amid the diplomatic thaw with Kim, many South Koreans are wary of closer North Korean ties after decades of threats, incursions and border clashes.

The two Koreas were planning to install and test a permanent hotline between their highest government offices Friday, Moon’s spokesman Kim Eui-kyeom told a briefing Thursday. The two leaders are expected to first speak over that phone sometime before their official meeting, Moon’s office has said.

Meeting Rehearsals

Workers were putting the final touches on renovations to the meeting venue, the so-called Peace House, on the military demarcation line between the two sides. South Korea plans rehearsals Tuesday and Thursday and a North Korean advance team will also cross the border for its own practice runs next week.

Moon expressed optimism about reaching an “in-principle” agreement with Kim, but warned that implementing any deal would be challenging.

“Realistically speaking, we’re just entering the threshold for a dialogue,” Moon said. “It’s too early to be confident of the success of the talk.”

Next week’s summit “should create a solid signpost that will lead us to denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, establishment of eternal peace regime and sustainable inter-Korean relations,” he said.

On the summit day, Moon will be accompanied by six senior officials -- chief of staff, spy agency chief, ministers of unification, foreign affairs and defense and national security chief, but who will join him at the talk with Kim has yet to be decided.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.