S Korea baf­fled by flip-flop

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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.

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