President Donald Trump said relations with Kim Jong Un remain “very good” and he opened the door Saturday for a third summit, hours after the North Korean leader said he’s willing to meet as long as the U.S. offers acceptable terms for a deal by year end.
“I agree with Kim Jong Un of North Korea that our personal relationship remains very good, perhaps the term excellent would be even more accurate,” Trump said Saturday in a tweet. “A third Summit would be good in that we fully understand where we each stand.”
Trump said he looked forward to a day, “which could be soon, when Nuclear Weapons and Sanctions can be removed, and then watching North Korea become one of the most successful nations of the World!”
In remarks carried earlier Saturday by the official Korean Central News Agency, Kim said he wouldn’t welcome a repeat of the Hanoi summit in February, when Trump walked out without securing a nuclear disarmament deal. While Kim hailed his relationship with Trump, he also said the U.S. has been making unilateral demands and should abandon that approach.
“In any case we will wait with patience for the U.S. courageous decision by the end of this year but it will clearly be tough to get such a good opportunity like the last time,” Kim said in a speech at North Korea’s rubber-stamp legislature, according to the KCNA report.
Kim’s remarks suggest an attempt to breathe new life into the stalled negotiations. While Trump said on Thursday that the door for dialog remains open and a summit “could happen,” he also rejected calls to revive economic projects between North and South Korea. In a leadership shuffle announced Friday, Kim consolidated his power and granted new legitimacy to officials involved in the talks.
“They want to see the U.S. make the next move -- that the steps that they took, such as returning war remains and shutting down missile sites, are even more grounds to demand the U.S. to relieve sanctions,” said Kim Hyun-wook, a professor at the Korean National Diplomatic Academy. “However, the U.S. has taken a more hard-line stance since the Hanoi summit.”
Trump offered a positive outlook in his Saturday tweet: “North Korea has tremendous potential for extraordinary growth, economic success and riches under the leadership of Chairman Kim.”
Kim said he doesn’t have to be fixated on a summit to obtain sanctions relief, and he wouldn’t hesitate to reach an agreement if the U.S. brings up an idea that is acceptable to both sides, KCNA reported. “What is clear is that if the U.S. clings to the current political reckoning, the outlook for resolving problems will be dark and very risky,” Kim said.
During a meeting at the White House with South Korean President Moon Jae-in on Thursday, Trump said now isn’t the right time for inter-Korean projects including reopening a joint industrial park kept shuttered by sanctions.
Responding to Kim’s speech, South Korea repeated its stance of promoting the talks. “Our government will do what we can in order to maintain the current momentum for dialog and help negotiations between the U.S. and North Korea resume at an early date,” Moon’s office said in a text message.
Kim’s year-end deadline probably reflects his desire to gain an edge in negotiations before Trump turns his focus toward next year’s presidential election, according to Shin Beomchul, director at the Seoul-based Asan Institute for Policy Studies’ Center for Security and Unification.
“The confrontation is likely to continue as there’s a low chance that the U.S. will change its position,' Shin said. “The possibility for a North-South summit is decreasing and there will be limited outcomes, if any.'
In a signal that North Korea hasn’t given up on negotiating, Kim Yong Chol was reappointed a member of the State Affairs Commission. He is one of the best-known personalities involved in the nuclear talks, having met with U.S. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo in Pyongyang and traveling to Washington earlier this year to visit Trump.
Choe Son Hui, another official who has played a highly visible role in the U.S. talks, was promoted to the job of first vice foreign minister, a move that could give her even more sway if discussions resume. There’s been no indication that the U.S. envoy for the talks, Stephen Biegun, has had any substantive meetings with North Korean leaders since the Hanoi summit.
“Choe Son Hui as first vice foreign minister puts her in position to be Biegun’s counterpart if this goes back to the foreign ministry to negotiate,” said Victor Cha, a senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.
Kim appointed Choe Ryong Hae as the nominal head of state with the formal title of president of the assembly’s presidium. Choe replaces Kim Yong Nam, 91, who had served North Korea’s two previous rulers: Kim Jong Un’s father and grandfather. The move was seen as an indication that the younger Kim has fended off any potential threats and completed the transfer of power that began after his father Kim Jong Il died in 2011.
“He has established a supreme leadership role where he is -- as President George W. Bush once said -- the decider,” said Michael Madden, a nonresident fellow at the Stimson Center in Washington. “What they’re trying to communicate is that they have their house in order.”
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