Kim wants to denuclearise during Trump’s term, S. Korea says

Kim says he is ready to restrict his nuclear programme and formally end the Korean War


SEOUL • North Korean leader Kim Jong-un signalled a willingness to revive stalled nuclear talks, with South Korean officials saying he wanted to “achieve denuclearisation” during US President Donald Trump’s first term.

Kim told visiting South Korean envoys on Wednesday he was ready to accept “stronger measures” to restrict his nuclear programme and wanted a declaration with the US to formally end the Korean War, the officials said.

A separate account by North Korean state media said Kim told the delegation that he wanted progress on denuclearisation, without mentioning the US or Trump.

“He wanted to end some 70 years of animosity between North Korea and the US, and achieve denuclearisation within Trump’s first term,” South Korean National Security Office head Chung Euiyong, who led the one-day trip to Pyongyang, told reporters yesterday in Seoul.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in also agreed to meet Kim in the North Korean capital on Sept 18-20, the first such trip in 11 years.

Kim’s remarks about Trump’s term, if conveyed accurately, would represent his first commitment to something resembling a timetable for nuclear talks with the US leader.

But interpreting them required several caveats: Kim only said that he wanted to realise denuclearisation before early 2021 — not commit to doing it — and he didn’t provide a clearer definition for the term, something that has emerged as a sticking point with the US.

Breakthrough Unlikely
Kim’s statement was “meaningful”, but unlikely to achieve a breakthrough if he doesn’t offer something more substantive in exchange for a peace declaration, according to Kim Byung-yeon, a professor of North Korean economics at Seoul National University.

“The US seems likely to move if North Korea gives something more concrete,” he said.

The South Koreans’ trip to Pyongyang came amid mounting disagreements over the speed and sequence of efforts to eliminate North Korea’s nuclear arsenal and finally end the 1950-53 Korean War.

While Trump and Kim Jong-un pledged during their historic summit in June to “work toward complete denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula”, they didn’t define what that meant or offer a timetable for carrying it out. The phrase “complete denuclearisation” — a term long preferred by North Korea — could be read to preclude nuclear-capable US bombers and submarines from operating near South Korea.

Signing a peace treaty without a disarmament deal also carries risks for the US, because it could legitimise Kim Jongun’s control over half of the peninsula and undermine the rationale for stationing 28,000 or so American troops on the peninsula.

Moon’s spokesman Kim Euikeum said Trump had asked Moon during a phone conversation before the trip to serve as “chief negotiator” between the US and North Korea. The US president gave Moon’s envoys a message to deliver to Kim Jong-un, who gave the officials a statement to send to the White House.

Chung, the South Korean envoy, said Kim Jong-un stressed the need for a peace declaration, and said that such a step wouldn’t require the withdrawal of US troops.

He was expected to brief hi s American counterpart, National Security advisor John Bolton, at 8pm Seoul time yesterday, Moon’s office said.

Trump cancelled a North Korea trip by Secretary of State Michael Pompeo last month, a day after it was announced, citing a lack of progress.

In addition to setting a date for their meeting in Pyongyang, Moon and Kim Jong-un also agreed to open a joint liaison office at the Gaeseong industrial complex north of the border before the summit, Chung said.

The two leaders will discuss measures on denuclearisation, establishing peace and detailed steps to ease military tensions, Chung said.

Cradle of Peace
Earlier yesterday, North Korean media said that Kim Jong-un had called for further efforts to “realise the denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula” during meetings with the envoys.

The report said it was the leader’s “will to completely remove the danger of armed conflict and horror of war from the Korean peninsula and turn it into the cradle of peace without nuclear weapons and free from nuclear threat.”

Koh Yu-hwan, a North Korea studies professor at Dongguk University, said that Kim Jong-un needed a peace declaration to justify further measures to military hawks at home.

“North Korea needs the declaration of the end of the war to convince its own officials of denuclearisation,” Koh said.