- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 18, 2018

South Korean President Moon Jae-in will push North Korean leader Kim Jong-un to detail his nuclear programs when the two meet Wednesday for the second day of a high-stakes summit that could make or break President Trump’s own pursuit of diplomacy with Pyongyang.

With the Moon-Kim summit in the North Korean capital marking the third time the two have met in eight months, the South Korean president faces mounting pressure to get Mr. Kim to show serious action on denuclearization — lest the North’s currently stalled talks with Washington collapse in full.

“President Moon needs to get some sort of commitment from Kim Jong-un to take a major disarmament step,” said Frank Aum, a former Pentagon adviser on North Korea now with the U.S. Institute of Peace. “If there’s no progress there, this summit could be deemed unsuccessful.”

The summit got underway Tuesday with some mixed signals. Mr. Kim gave Mr. Moon an exceedingly warm welcome, meeting him and his wife at the airport in the North Korean capital before riding into town in an open limousine through streets lined with crowds that cheered and waved little blue-and-white flags symbolizing Korean unity.

Mr. Kim thanked Mr. Moon for helping broker his June summit with President Trump in Singapore, saying “more progress on North Korea-U.S. ties is expected.” But then, the North’s main newspaper lobbed a fresh rhetorical volley at Washington, saying the U.S. alone for the “deadlocked” denuclearization talks because of its unrealistic demands.

It’s familiar pattern: Mr. Kim expresses hopes for more talks and showers praise on President Trump while other voices in Pyongyang strike a far harsher tone. Analysts say the dual messaging underscores the Kim regime’s frustration since the Singapore summit that the Trump administration refuses to offer major concessions before Pyongyang moves on denuclearization.

North Korea so far has taken only minimal steps, such as dismantling its nuclear and rocket-engine testing sites. Hard-liners around Mr. Trump say more serious moves are necessary before Washington makes concessions — including easing economic sanctions and agreeing to a formal peace agreement.

It’s a situation Mr. Moon must navigate.

“U.S.-North Korea talks have stagnated,” Christopher Green, a Korean peninsula expert with the International Crisis Group, wrote recently. “Moon went to Pyongyang intent on trying to halt the slide.”

It’s not clear if Mr. Kim, desperate to develop his country economically, would be willing to reveal the sensitive details of his nuclear programs in exchange for a promise that Washington will officially recognize a peace deal between North and South Korea — what’s known in diplomatic circles as an “end-of-war declaration.”

“The stalemate right now is about who is going to go first?” Mr. Aum said. “Is North Korea going to provide this declaration of its nuclear materials and sights first, or is the U.S. going to concede an end-of-war declaration?”

“President Moon needs to come out of this week’s summit with some sort of creative solution,” he said. “It may be a declaration-for-declaration agreement, where both sides agree to declare at the same time.”

South Korean officials are guarded on the matter, saying this week’s summit will focus on ways North and South Korea can decrease military tensions and expand commercial links. Mr. Moon’s delegation included some of the most prominent business leaders in South Korea.

Any progress this week is most likely to come in military cooperation. Mr. Aum said that could include an agreement for officials from the South participate in joint exhumation operations of Korean War remains in the North.

It may also establishing an area within the demilitarized zone (DMZ) separating South from North jointly patrolled by soldiers from the two sides. There is also talk of removing some of the front-line guard posts along the DMZ and halting hostile acts along their sea boundary.

But the prospect of a peace treaty to formally end the long-frozen Korean War remains sensitive, as it may cast a cloud over the status of some 30,000 U.S. military personnel currently stationed on the South Korean side of the DMZ.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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