S Korea baffled by flip-flop
SEOUL South Korea has expressed cautious relief about the revived talks for a summit between United States President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, following a whirlwind 24 hours that saw Trump cancelling the highly anticipated meeting before saying it was potentially back on.
The statement by Seoul’s presidential office yesterday came hours after Trump welcomed North Korea’s conciliatory response to his Friday letter withdrawing from the summit with Kim and said that the meeting might be getting back on track.
Trump later tweeted that the summit, if it does happen, was likely to take place on June 12 in Singapore, as originally planned.
‘‘We see it as fortunate that the embers of dialogue between North Korea and the United States weren’t fully extinguished and are coming alive again,’’ Seoul’s presidential spokesman Kim Eui-kyeom said. ‘‘We are carefully watching the developments.’’
South Korea, which brokered the talks between Washington and Pyongyang, was caught off guard by Trump’s abrupt cancellation of the summit, citing hostility in recent North Korean comments.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in said Trump’s decision left him ‘‘perplexed’’ and was ‘‘very regrettable’’, and he urged Washington and Pyongyang to resolve their differences through ‘‘more direct and closer dialogue between their leaders’’.
Moon and Kim held a historic summit in April where they announced vague aspirations for a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula and permanent peace, which Seoul has tried to sell as a meaningful breakthrough to set up the summit with Trump.
Trump’s back-and-forth over his summit plans with Kim has exposed the fragility of Seoul as an intermediary.
It has fanned fears in South Korea that the country may lose its voice between a rival intent on driving a wedge between Washington and Seoul and an American president who thinks less of the traditional alliance with Seoul than his predecessors did.
Early this month, North Korea cancelled a high-level meeting with Seoul over South Korea’s participation in regular military exercises with the US, and insisted that it would not return to talks unless its grievances were resolved.
In his letter to Kim, Trump objected specifically to a statement from senior North Korean diplomat Choe Son Hui. She had referred to US Vice AP President Mike Pence as a ‘‘political dummy’’ for his earlier comments on North Korea, and said it was up to the Americans whether they would ‘‘meet us at a meeting room or encounter us at nuclear-to-nuclear showdown’’.
North Korea issued an unusually restrained and diplomatic response to Trump, saying it was still willing to sit for talks with the US ‘‘at any time, (in) any format’’.
‘‘The first meeting would not solve all, but solving even one at a time in a phased way would make the relations get better rather than making them get worse,’’ North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kye Gwan said in a statement carried by Pyongyang’s official Korean Central News Agency.
Analysts say Kim’s diplomatic outreach in recent months after a flurry of nuclear and missile tests in 2017 indicates he is eager for relief from sanctions to build his economy, and for the international legitimacy the summit with Trump would provide. But there is also skepticism about whether Kim will ever agree to fully relinquish his nuclear arsenal, which he likely sees as his only guarantee of survival.
Comments in North Korea’s state media indicate that Kim sees any meeting with Trump as an arms control negotiation between nuclear states, rather than a process to surrender his nuclear weapons. The North has said it will refuse to participate in talks where it would be unilaterally pressured to give up its nukes. AP
A protester wearing a mask of US President Donald Trump performs with cut-outs of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, left, and South Korean President Moon Jae-in during a rally in Seoul yesterday.