Seoul’s bid to sal­vage talks

South Korea says it will ‘closely me­di­ate’ af­ter North threat­ens to can­cel next month’s Kim-Trump sum­mit

The New Zealand Herald - - World - Kim Tong Hyung in Seoul

South Korea says it is push­ing to re­set high-level talks with North Korea and will com­mu­ni­cate closely with Wash­ing­ton and Py­ongyang to in­crease the chances of a suc­cess­ful sum­mit be­tween US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on re­solv­ing the stand­off over the North’s nu­clear weapons.

The an­nounce­ment yes­ter­day by Seoul’s pres­i­den­tial Na­tional Se­cu­rity Coun­cil (NSC) came a day af­ter North Korea threat­ened to scrap next month’s his­toric meet­ing be­tween Trump and Kim, say­ing it has no in­ter­est in a “one-sided” af­fair meant to pres­sure the North to aban­don its nukes. The North also broke off a high-level meet­ing with South Korea to protest the US-South Korean mil­i­tary ex­er­cises the North has long claimed are an in­va­sion re­hearsal.

The North’s sur­prise an­nounce­ment seemed to cool what had been an un­usual flurry of outreach from a coun­try that last year con­ducted a provoca­tive series of weapons tests that had many fear­ing the re­gion was on the edge of war.

An­a­lysts said it’s un­likely that North Korea in­tends to scut­tle all diplo­macy. More likely, they said, is that it wants to gain lever­age ahead of the talks be­tween Kim and Trump, sched­uled for June 12 in Sin­ga­pore.

South Korea, which bro­kered the talks be­tween Kim and Trump, will “closely me­di­ate us­ing mul­ti­ple com­mu­ni­ca­tion chan­nels with the United States and with North Korea so that the North Korea-US sum­mit can pro­ceed suc­cess­fully”, said the NSC af­ter a meet­ing chaired by Chung Eui Yong, the top se­cu­rity ad­viser of South Korean Pres­i­dent Moon Jae In.

The NSC also urged the North to faith­fully abide by the agree­ments reached be­tween Moon and Kim in their sum­mit last month, where they is­sued a vague vow on the “com­plete de­nu­cle­ari­sa­tion” of their penin­sula and pledged per­ma­nent peace. Se­nior of­fi­cials from the two Koreas were to sit down at a bor­der vil­lage on Wed­nes­day to dis­cuss how to im­ple­ment their lead­ers’ agree­ments to re­duce mil­i­tary ten­sions along their heav­ily for­ti­fied bor­der and im­prove over­all ties be­fore the North can­celled the meet­ing.

In Wash­ing­ton, Trump said the US hadn’t been no­ti­fied about the North Korean threat to can­cel the sum­mit.

“We haven’t seen any­thing. We haven’t heard any­thing. We will see what hap­pens,” he said.

White House spokes­woman Sarah Huck­abee San­ders said the Ad­min­is­tra­tion was “still hope­ful” that the sum­mit would take place, and that threats from North Korea to scrap the meet­ing were “some­thing that we fully ex­pected”. She said Trump was “ready for very tough ne­go­ti­a­tions,” adding that “if they want to meet, we’ll be ready and if they don’t that’s OK”. If there was no meet­ing, the US would “con­tinue with the cam­paign of max­i­mum pres­sure” against the North, she said.

North Korean First Vice-For­eign Min­is­ter Kim Kye Gwan said in a state­ment car­ried by state me­dia on Wed­nes­day that “we are no longer in­ter­ested in a ne­go­ti­a­tion that will be all about driv­ing us into a corner and mak­ing a one-sided de­mand for us to give up our nukes and this would force us to re­con­sider whether we would ac­cept the North Korea-US sum­mit meet­ing”. He crit­i­cised re­cent com­ments by Trump’s top se­cu­rity ad­viser, John Bolton, and other US of­fi­cials who have said the North should fol­low the “Libyan model” of nu­clear dis­ar­ma­ment and pro­vide a “com­plete, ver­i­fi­able and ir­re­versible dis­man­tle­ment”. He also took is­sue with US views that the North should fully re­lin­quish its bi­o­log­i­cal and chem­i­cal weapons.

Some an­a­lysts say bring­ing up Libya, which dis­man­tled its rudi­men­tary nu­clear pro­gramme in the 2000s in ex­change for sanc­tions re­lief, jeop­ar­dises progress in ne­go­ti­a­tions with the North. Kim Jong Un took power weeks af­ter for­mer Libyan leader Muam­mar Gaddafi’s grue­some death at the hands of rebel forces amid a pop­u­lar up­ris­ing in Oc­to­ber 2011. The North has fre­quently used Gaddafi’s death to jus­tify its own nu­clear de­vel­op­ment in the face of per­ceived US threats.

An­nual mil­i­tary drills be­tween Wash­ing­ton and Seoul have long been a ma­jor source of con­tention be­tween the Koreas, and an­a­lysts have won­dered whether their con­tin­u­a­tion would hurt the de­tente that, since an outreach by Kim in Jan­uary, has re­placed the in­sults and threats of war. Much larger spring­time drills took place last month with­out the North’s typ­i­cally fiery con­dem­na­tion or ac­com­pa­ny­ing weapons tests, though Wash­ing­ton and Seoul toned down those ex­er­cises.

The North’s of­fi­cial Korean Cen­tral News Agency said the US air­craft mo­bilised for the drills in­clude nu­clear-ca­pa­ble B-52 bombers and stealth F-22 fighter jets, two of the US mil­i­tary as­sets it has pre­vi­ously said are aimed at launch­ing nu­clear strikes on the North. The US and South Korea say the drills are de­fen­sive in na­ture.

Seoul’s De­fence Min­istry said F-22s are in­volved in the drills, but not the B-52s. Min­istry spokesman Lee Jin Woo said the B-52s had never been part of plans for this year’s drills, deny­ing me­dia spec­u­la­tion that Wash­ing­ton and Seoul with­drew the bombers in re­ac­tion to Py­ongyang’s an­nounce­ment.

Kim told vis­it­ing South Korean of­fi­cials in March that he “un­der­stands” the drills would take place and ex­pressed hope that they would be mod­i­fied once the sit­u­a­tion on the penin­sula sta­bilises, ac­cord­ing to the South Korean Gov­ern­ment.

De­spite Kim’s outreach, some ex­perts were scep­ti­cal about whether he would com­pletely give up a nu­clear pro­gramme that he had pushed so hard to build. The North pre­vi­ously vowed to con­tinue nu­clear de­vel­op­ment un­less the US pulls its 28,500 troops out of South Korea and with­draws its so-called “nu­clear um­brella” se­cu­rity guar­an­tee to South Korea and Ja­pan as a con­di­tion for its nu­clear dis­ar­ma­ment.

Wed­nes­day’s threat could also be tar­geted at show­ing a do­mes­tic au­di­ence that Kim is will­ing to stand up to Wash­ing­ton. Kim has re­peat­edly told his peo­ple that his nukes are a “pow­er­ful treasured sword” that can smash US hos­til­ity.

Photo / AP

South Korea says it will do all it can to make sure Don­ald Trump and Jong Un meet as planned.

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