South Korea urges Kim to respond to US calls to restart talks

SEOUL • South Korean President Moon Jae-in (picture) urged Kim Jong-un to heed calls to return to the negotiating table after talks broke down between the North Korean leader and US President Donald Trump.

“I expect North Korea to respond to efforts made by South Korea and the US,” Moon said during a meeting with his senior advisors yesterday in Seoul. Moon is expected to travel to the US next week for his first meeting with the American leader since the Trump-Kim summit in Hanoi fell apart without an agreement advancing North Korea’s disarmament.

The no-deal summit was a blow to Moon, whose administration had raised expectations that the meeting would achieve progress toward denuclearisation. Moon has staked much of his political capital on the “peace process” with North Korea and an extended break in negotiations between Trump and Kim could undermine his public support.

Since Kim left Hanoi without a deal, North Korean diplomats have held news conferences blaming the US for missing an opportunity in talks and demanding relief from economic sanctions. The country saw the lowest crop production last year in a decade, a United Nations report said last month.

The regime has ignored South Korean calls for working-level meetings, criticising Moon’s government in state propaganda and at one point withdrawing staff from a joint liaison office set up in September.

Moon also responded to domestic critics of his North Korea policies, saying it would be “irresponsible” and “unhelpful” to return to the past when nuclear tests and exchanges of sharp rhetoric between Trump and Kim stoked fears of reigniting war on the peninsula.

“Some are trying to reverse the tide of peace on the Korean Peninsula and widen a crack between the US-South Korea alliance,” Moon said. “It is never helpful to the national interest and the future of the Korean Peninsula.”

Moon has faced criticism for his efforts to advance inter-Korean economic projects after the summit, which contrasted with the US push to maintain sanctions pressure.

Moon’s approval rating hit a record low of 43%, according to a Gallup Korea poll released last Friday. Respondents criticised him for his policies on the domestic economy and his diplomacy with North Korea, the pollster said. Moon’s April 11 meeting with Trump will test his ability to continue playing a mediating role between the two leaders.

South Korean Defence Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo was slated to meet with his acting American counterpart, Patrick Shanahan, yesterday in Washington to discuss joint military exercises between the allies that have been scaled down or cancelled to facilitate talks. — Bloomberg