- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 1, 2018

The Trump administration is pushing for a second summit between the president and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un by early 2019, hoping to pump momentum into denuclearization talks that have produced few tangible results since the two leaders’ first historic June summit in Singapore.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says he’ll discuss details of a second Trump-Kim summit with his North Korean counterparts in the coming days, and will also push Pyongyang on a date to deliver on its recent promise to let American inspectors examine a key North Korean nuclear facility.

But, while Mr. Pompeo expressed hopes for a “substantial breakthrough” soon, State Department officials were guarded about the nuclear inspectors issue Thursday, suggesting the Trump administration is still weighing how to nudge the Kim regime forward.

There were, however, other signs of progress on other fronts Thursday, with South Korean President Moon Jae-in announcing that Mr. Kim will “soon” visit Seoul and that a second summit of the two Korean leaders is “near at hand.” Chinese President Xi Jinping is expected to visit North Korea soon and that Mr. Kim will likely visit Russia soon and may even meet with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

In the past, diplomats from China, Russia, Japan, South Korea and the U.S. had worked together as a group in failed attempts to curb the North’s nuclear problems. Now the Kim regime is working with those nations on a one-on-one basis, prompting concerns in Washington who fear Pyongyang is taking advantage of the current dynamic to drag out the talks and drive a wedge between the other powers.

Many argue that stark differences are already beginning to emerge between Seoul and Washington on how to push the North Koreans to abandon their nuclear weapons.

Amid these circumstances, at top adviser to South Korea’s Mr. Moon said this week that a paradigm shift may be necessary.

“The U.S. views North Korea in the frame of crime and punishment — this is its social construct of reality that North Korea cheats and lies,” Moon Chung-in, a special presidential adviser for unification, diplomacy and national security affairs told The Korea Times newspaper on Wednesday.

“But if [the U.S.] only looks at Pyongyang through this frame there is no way out,” the adviser argued. “There needs to be a more pragmatic, flexible approach to North Korea.”

Mr. Kim made global headlines in September by committing in a joint statement with Mr. Moon to allow U.S. inspectors into North Korea.

But the pledge came with a vague and potentially vast condition: The North Korean leader said his regime would dismantle its Yongbyon nuclear facility only if the U.S. takes unspecified “corresponding measures.”

It remains to be seen what those corresponding measures might be. South Korean officials have suggested one way for Washington to present a concession could be for Mr. Trump to throw his weight behind a formal declaration officially ending the Korean War, which was frozen 65 years ago by an armistice but no peace treaty.

But U.S. support for such a declaration could be difficult because it would bring into question America’s whole justification for keeping some 30,000 U.S. military personnel positioned in South Korea — a key strategic footprint not far from China.

Mr. Pompeo told Fox News commentator Laura Ingraham on Wednesday that Mr. Kim had told him personally three weeks ago in Pyongyang that he’s “committed to allowing American inspectors to come look at two significant sites.”

“We hope to get there before too long,” said Mr. Pompeo, adding that the issue of inspections is “one of the things I’ll speak with my counterpart next week about.”

He said he hoped Mr. Trump and Mr. Kim could meet early in 2019, “where we can make a substantial breakthrough in taking down the nuclear threat from North Korea.”

State Department deputy spokesman Robert Palladino declined to comment Thursday on whether the administration is considering a formal declaration ending the conflict between North and South Korea.


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