- The Washington Times - Monday, July 1, 2019

President Trump said Monday he expects “good things” to come from his impromptu meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, as both sides agreed to restart denuclearization talks and some analysts warned of a propaganda bonanza for Pyongyang.

“Thank you to President Moon [Jae-in] of South Korea for hosting the American Delegation and me immediately following the very successful G-20 in Japan,” Mr. Trump tweeted. “While there, it was great to call on Chairman Kim of North Korea to have our very well covered meeting. Good things can happen for all!”

Mr. Trump on Sunday became the first sitting U.S. president to set foot on North Korean territory. He met Mr. Kim at the border town of Panmunjom at the heavily guarded Demilitarized Zone separating North and South. The two leaders and their advisers conferred for more than an hour and agreed to move forward with talks that had broken down during their last summit in February in Vietnam.

The president said he looks forward to seeing Mr. Kim again “soon.”

“In the meantime, our teams will be meeting to work on some solutions to very long term and persistent problems,” he tweeted. “No rush, but I am sure we will ultimately get there!”

Mr. Trump isn’t the only one pleased with the result. The South Koreans were thrilled with the optics, saying it could jump-start the peace process and one day move beyond the tense Cold War structure at the border.

“It showed this military demarcation line is really artificial,” Chung-in Moon, an adviser to South Korean President Moon Jae-in, told The Washington Times.

If leaders are able to cross it with more frequency, “we can eventually demolish the demarcation line.”

The historic handshake between Mr. Trump and Mr. Kim dominated TV coverage in Seoul. Footage of the meeting between two blue huts in the Panmunjom truce village played on a loop in the sprawling capital city while a line of pundits joined news anchors to break it all down.

While Mr. Trump took a victory lap on social media, Mr. Moon — the South Korean adviser — called it a “very successful” summit and threefold win for the Korean Peninsula and global diplomacy.

The North Koreans seemed happy, too. Their state-operated news agency described “a historic meeting” that attracted “worldwide attention.”

“The top leaders of the two countries agreed to keep in close touch in the future, too, and resume and push forward productive dialogues for making a new breakthrough in the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and in the bilateral relations,” the Korean Central News Agency said, according to a translated version of its statement.

In the U.S., Democrats criticized Mr. Trump’s meeting, saying he was further legitimizing the ruthless dictator without gaining anything in return. Former Vice President Joseph R. Biden, the leading candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination, said Monday that Mr. Trump is “more concerned with a photo-op” than with results.

“In this case, all Trump achieved was a mere promise to restart working-level negotiations — negotiations that should have never ended,” Mr. Biden said. “Diplomacy is important, but diplomacy requires a strategy, a process and competent leadership to deliver. After three made-for-TV summits, we still don’t have a single concrete commitment from North Korea.

“Not one missile or nuclear weapon has been destroyed, not one inspector is on the ground. If anything, the situation has gotten worse. North Korea has continued to churn out fissile material and is no longer an isolated pariah on the world stage.”

The administration is considering a potential deal with North Korea that would accept the country as a nuclear power if it freezes its nuclear program in exchange for the lifting of the “most onerous” U.S. sanctions, The New York Times reported.

The plan would seek to prevent Pyongyang from adding nuclear weapons but would not immediately dismantle any weapons or limit the North’s missile arsenal, the paper said.

But White House National Security Adviser John R. Bolton dismissed the report.

“Neither the NSC staff nor I have discussed or heard of any desire to ‘settle for a nuclear freeze by NK,’” Mr. Bolton tweeted Monday. “This was a reprehensible attempt by someone to box in the President. There should be consequences.”

Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican, said he was glad to see Mr. Bolton “push back hard” on the narrative that the administration would accept a nuclear freeze “as an acceptable outcome by North Korea.”

“To President Trump’s great credit he has the right goal – which is irreversible, verifiable denuclearization of the Korean peninsula – with economic and security guarantees to North Korea in return,” Mr. Graham tweeted. “This is the only win-win situation available for the Korean peninsula, United States, and the world at large. Legitimizing a nuclear arsenal in the hands of an unstable, erratic despot will never be an acceptable outcome.”

Describing the president’s visit as an “amazing event,” KCNA went on to assert that Mr. Trump and Mr. Kim “explained issues of easing tensions on the Korean Peninsula, ending the inglorious relations between the two countries and making a dramatic turn and also issues of mutual concern and interest which become a stumbling block in solving those issues.”

Others went further.

David Maxwell, a retired Army Special Forces colonel and North Korea analyst with the Foundation for Defense of Democracies think tank in Washington, warned that the “[Kim] regime is masterful at getting something for nothing.”

“This is only the beginning,” Mr. Maxwell told reporters Monday, asserting that the Kim regime’s “Propaganda and Agitation Department is going to exploit the hell out of this meeting.”

“It is a proverbial bonanza for them,” he said. “I am not saying this to be critical of the summit but only to emphasize that everything we do will be exploited for the regime’s propaganda messages.”

What remains to be seen is whether the weekend’s developments will result in tangible progress on the nuclear negotiations front. North Korea hawks in Washington argue that the Kim regime has been stalling since the first summit between Mr. Kim and Mr. Trump in Singapore in June 2018.

A joint declaration that both leaders signed in Singapore said: “President Trump committed to provide security guarantees to [North Korea] and Chairman Kim Jong-un reaffirmed his firm and unwavering commitment to complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”

The nearly 13 months since have failed to fully clarify whether the two sides agree on what such a denuclearization would entail. The Trump administration says it would mean complete, verifiable, irreversible denuclearization by Pyongyang. But some analysts argue that the North Koreans are demanding the removal of the U.S. defensive nuclear umbrella from all of East Asia.

As for working-level talks, Mr. Trump told reporters at the DMZ on Sunday that U.S. and North Korean officials “will meet over the next few weeks and they’re going to start a process and we’ll see what happens.”

But he stressed that “we want a really comprehensive, good deal.”

“Speed is not the object,” the president said.

Mr. Moon, the adviser in Seoul, said the South Koreans will wait and see what happens when Stephen E. Biegun, the U.S. special representative for North Korea, and his North Korean counterparts resume talks in mid-July.

South Korea will be on the sidelines of the talks, though Mr. Moon rejected the idea that his country is overhyping its role as a key go-between.

“The very fact that we invited Trump to Seoul indicates that the South Korean government played a very important facilitating role,” Mr. Moon said.

He said their president could have objected to the DMZ meetup with Mr. Kim on grounds that it would threaten to overshadow his own bilateral face time with the U.S. president.

Top officials in Seoul said the U.S. briefed South Korea extensively on the Trump-Kim talks and that “important contents were included” in Mr. Moon’s brief conversation with Mr. Kim at the DMZ, according to the Yonhap News Agency.

The South Korean leader, a progressive, is under pressure to make progress in establishing a lasting peace on the peninsula. He tied his legacy to it, and domestic elections next week could empower or weaken his Democratic Party.

“He wants to really make tangible progress,” Mr. Moon said of his boss.

Haksoon Paik, the president of the Sejong Institute — a leading think tank in Seoul — said South Korea’s invitation to Mr. Trump clearly paid off.

“This perception of South Koreans, about the success of President Moon’s mediation, will boost President Moon’s approval rate. And if the U.S.-[North Korea] negotiation continues until the general election in South Korea in mid-April next year, it will be one of the favorable elements that may help win the general election,” he said.

At the same time, the Moon administration is “structurally sidelined” from the U.S.-North Korean talks, which South Korean conservatives will be quick to point out.

Mr. Moon will have to wait and see whether Mr. Trump and Mr. Kim make actual progress, rather than make a show of continuing negotiation.

Guy Taylor contributed to this report. Tom Howell Jr. reported from Seoul.

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