South Korea: Kim commits to summit with Trump, denuclearization

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SEOUL, South Korea (AP) - South Korean President Moon Jae-in said Sunday that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un committed in their surprise meeting to sitting down with President Donald Trump and to a “complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”

The Korean leaders’ second summit in a month saw bear hugs and broad smiles, but their quickly arranged meeting Saturday appears to highlight a sense of urgency on both sides of the world’s most heavily armed border.

At the White House, Trump said negotiations over a potential June 12 summit with Kim that he had earlier canceled were “going along very well.” Trump told reporters that they are still considering Singapore as the venue for their talks. He said there is a “lot of good will,” and that denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula would be “a great thing.”

The Koreas’ talks, which Moon said Kim requested, capped a whirlwind 24 hours of diplomatic back-and-forth. They allowed Moon to push for a U.S.-North Korean summit that he sees as the best way to ease animosity that had some fearing a war last year.

Kim may see the sit-down with Trump as necessary to easing pressure from crushing sanctions and to winning security assurances in a region surrounded by enemies.

Moon told reporters Sunday that Kim “again made clear his commitment to a complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” and that he told the South Korean leader he’s willing to cooperate to end confrontation and work toward peace for the sake of the successful North Korea-U.S. summit.

Moon said he told Kim that Trump has a “firm resolve” to end hostile relations with North Korea and initiate economic cooperation if Kim implements “complete denuclearization.”

“What Kim is unclear about is that he has concerns about whether his country can surely trust the United States over its promise to end hostile relations (with North Korea) and provide a security guarantee if they do denuclearization,” Moon said.

“During the South Korea-U.S. summit, President Trump said the U.S. is willing to clearly put an end to hostile relations (between the U.S. and North Korea) and help (the North) achieve economic prosperity if North Korea conducts denuclearization,” he said.

Moon said North Korea and the United States will soon start working-level talks to prepare for the Kim-Trump summit. He said he expects the talks to go smoothly because Pyongyang and Washington both know what they want from each other.

But many North Korea experts warn that despite repeated references to “denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula” by the North, it remains unclear whether Kim will ever agree to fully abandon his nuclear arsenal.

The North has previously used the term to demand the United States pull out its 28,500 troops in South Korea and withdraw its so-called “nuclear umbrella” security commitment to South Korea and Japan. The North hasn’t openly repeated those same demands after Kim’s sudden outreach to Seoul and Washington.

Moon has insisted Kim can be persuaded to abandon his nuclear facilities, materials and bombs in a verifiable and irreversible way in exchange for credible security and economic guarantees. Moon said Sunday that the North’s disarmament could be still be a difficult process even if Pyongyang, Washington and Seoul don’t differ over what “complete denuclearization” of the peninsula means.

Moon, who brokered the summit between Washington and Pyongyang, likely used Saturday’s meeting to confirm Kim’s willingness to enter nuclear negotiations with Trump and clarify what steps Kim has in mind in the process of denuclearization, said Hong Min, a senior analyst at Seoul’s Korea Institute for National Unification.

Some U.S. officials have talked about a comprehensive one-shot deal in which North Korea fully eliminates its nukes first and receives rewards later. But Kim, through two summits with Chinese President Xi Jinping in March and May, has called for a phased and synchronized process in which every action he takes is met with a reciprocal reward from the United States.

Before he canceled the summit, Trump did not rule out an incremental approach that would provide incentives along the way to the North.