Daunt­ing chal­lenge for Moon at 3rd sum­mit with Kim

San Francisco Chronicle (Sunday) - - WORLD - By Kim Tong-Hyung Kim Tong-Hyung is an As­so­ci­ated Press writer.

SEOUL — The first in­terKorean sum­mit of 2018, a sunny spec­ta­cle in late April, re­duced war fears on the penin­sula. The sec­ond, an emer­gency one in May, helped en­sure a his­toric meet­ing be­tween North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and Pres­i­dent Trump came off.

Now, at his third sum­mit with Kim this week in Py­ongyang, South Korean Pres­i­dent Moon Jae-in faces his tough­est chal­lenge yet: de­liv­er­ing some­thing sub­stan­tive that goes be­yond pre­vi­ous vague state­ments on de­nu­cle­ariza­tion and helps to get U.S.-North Korea talks back on track.

Ne­go­ti­a­tions be­tween Wash­ing­ton and Py­ongyang have sput­tered in re­cent weeks, rais­ing doubts about whether Kim is truly will­ing to re­lin­quish his nu­clear arse­nal and putting pres­sure on Moon to bro­ker progress once again.

The re­sult will prob­a­bly be a cru­cial indi­ca­tor of how the larger nu­clear ne­go­ti­a­tions with the United States will pro­ceed. Moon will try to get Kim to ex­press more clearly that he’s pre­pared to aban­don his nu­clear weapons, which could cre­ate mo­men­tum for a sec­ond Kim-Trump sum­mit.

Whether Moon suc­ceeds, fails or falls some­where in be­tween, the third in­ter-Korean sum­mit could help an­swer a per­sis­tent ques­tion: When Kim says he sup­ports the “com­plete de­nu­cle­ariza­tion of the Korean Penin­sula,” what does he mean?

Moon heads to Py­ongyang on Tues­day fac­ing lin­ger­ing ques­tions over his claim that Kim, dur­ing his con­ver­sa­tions with South Korean of­fi­cials, has pri­vately ex­pressed a genuine in­ter­est in deal­ing away his nu­clear weapons and mis­siles.

The wave of op­ti­mism that sur­rounded the first two in­terKorean sum­mits in April and May and the Sin­ga­pore meet­ing be­tween Trump and Kim in June con­ve­niently over­looked dis­agree­ments about what ex­actly Kim had com­mit­ted to.

“The third sum­mit will bring more clar­ity to what North Korea means with the com­plete de­nu­cle­ariza­tion of the penin­sula,” said Kim Tae­woo, for­mer pres­i­dent of Seoul’s gov­ern­ment-funded Korea In­sti­tute for Na­tional Uni­fi­ca­tion. “If the North has been ne­go­ti­at­ing with good­will all this time, Moon will be able to re­turn with good re­sults. But, re­gret­tably, I see that pos­si­bil­ity as low.”

He said it will be cru­cial for Moon to get Kim Jong Un to give a clearer sig­nal that he is will­ing to ac­cept cred­i­ble ac­tions to­ward de­nu­cle­ariza­tion, such as pro­vid­ing a de­tailed de­scrip­tion of North Korea’s nu­clear pro­gram, a key first step to­ward in­spect­ing and dis­man­tling of it.

Moon, the son of North Korean war refugees, is ea­ger to keep the nu­clear diplo­macy alive, not just to keep a lid on ten­sions, but also to ad­vance his am­bi­tious plans for en­gage­ment with the North, in­clud­ing joint eco­nomic projects and re­con­nect­ing in­ter-Korean roads and rail­ways.

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