President Trump and South Korean President Moon Jae-in spoke Sunday to ensure that the U.S. summit with North Korea is still on track, despite Pyongyang’s threat to cancel the high-stakes meeting between Mr. Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.
In a phone call, Mr. Trump and Mr. Moon “exchanged views on various actions taken by North Korea recently,” South Korea’s presidential office said. The two leaders agreed to work closely on the planned summit in Singapore on June 12, which would be the first meeting between a sitting U.S. president and a North Korean leader.
The White House said Sunday that it still expects the summit with Mr. Kim to take place and that Mr. Trump and Mr. Moon were continuing their “close coordination” on the denuclearization talks.
Mr. Trump will host Mr. Moon at the White House on Tuesday. The two leaders will seek to clarify and align their expectations for the denuclearization talks with North Korea.
Pyongyang last week threatened to pull out of the summit with Mr. Trump, saying it objects to U.S. demands for “unilateral nuclear abandonment.” North Korea also canceled abruptly a high-level meeting with the South, protesting joint air combat military drills between Seoul and Washington known as Max Thunder, and calling Mr. Moon’s government “ignorant and incompetent.”
In the wake of those moves, the U.S., South Korea and Japan agreed to shift a planned flight of at least two nuclear-capable B-52 bombers so they wouldn’t fly over the Korean Peninsula, according to two U.S. defense officials.
Further dampening the mood, a spokesman for North Korea’s Red Cross Society demanded Saturday that South Korea’s government send female North Korean restaurant workers back to their home country “without delay” to show the will to improve the inter-Korean ties, said the North’s Korean Central News Agency.
Mr. Moon is visiting after North Korea expressed anger over National Security Adviser John R. Bolton’s claims that Washington seeks a quick, verifiable “Libya model” denuclearization from Pyongyang.
Mr. Trump has walked back Mr. Bolton’s assertions, telling reporters that “the Libyan model isn’t a model that we have at all when we’re thinking of North Korea.” He stressed that if Mr. Kim is serious about abandoning his nuclear program, Washington will provide the North Korean leader’s regime with “protections.”
Against that backdrop, national security sources say, the White House is scrambling behind the scenes to nail down exactly what its expectations are for the highly anticipated summit with Mr. Kim in Singapore.
That’s where Mr. Moon comes in, said Hak-soon Paik, the head North Korea analyst at the Sejong Institute, a top South Korean think tank.
Mr. Paik, who is in Washington ahead of Mr. Moon’s visit to the White House, says it “comes at an opportune moment” for both South Korea and the U.S.
“On the U.S. side, the administration has a chance to hear directly from the South Korean president what his views toward what Mr. Trump’s expectations should be for the upcoming summit with Kim,” Mr. Paik told The Washington Times. “For the South Korean side, this is a moment to advise Mr. Trump directly on Seoul’s view of what would or would not amount to a successful [summit].”
The Moon visit comes roughly a month after Mr. Trump held a similar meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to absorb his perspective on how a one-on-one with Mr. Kim should play out.
A top aide to Mr. Abe said at the time that the Japanese premier told Mr. Trump to demand that Mr. Kim meet a hard deadline of 2020 to permanently surrender his nuclear programs and that no sanctions relief for Pyongyang should be granted until the deadline is met.
Katsuyuki Kawai, the special adviser for foreign affairs to Mr. Abe from Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party, said Mr. Abe also pressed Mr. Trump to realize “America is in a stronger position than Chairman Kim” and that North Korean denuclearization has to occur before Mr. Trump faces a potentially difficult re-election campaign in two years.
Sources close to Mr. Moon have told The Times that the South Korean president is likely to offer similar advice this week, with particular emphasis on the timeline the administration should demand for denuclearization.
One source said Mr. Moon will attempt to make the case that at least a year, if not considerably longer, will be needed for any kind of successful, verifiable denuclearization to occur.
At a historic summit April 27 in the Demilitarized Zone dividing their two countries, Mr. Kim and Mr. Moon pledged to pursue nuclear disarmament and a peace treaty. Pyongyang also raised hopes ahead of the Trump-Kim summit by announcing that it will destroy its nuclear testing site.
Pyongyang has offered to publicly dismantle its only known nuclear test site in northeastern Punggye-ri from May 23 to 25, inviting journalists from South Korea, China, Russia, Britain and the U.S. to witness the event.
While publicly supporting Mr. Trump’s “maximum pressure campaign” of sanctions and military threats, Mr. Moon favors reconciliation with the North and has urged Washington to engage with Mr. Kim.
Mr. Trump said last week that the North Korean leader was possibly being influenced by Beijing after two recent visits there.
“I think things changed a little bit when they met with China,” Mr. Trump told reporters. “As you know, Kim Jong-un had a second meeting with China, which was a little bit of a surprise meeting. There has been a big difference since they had the second meeting with President Xi [Jinping].”
⦁ This article is based in part on wire service reports.