South Korean President Moon Jae-in said Sunday that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un had reaffirmed his commitment to “completely denuclearize the Korean Peninsula” and looked forward to meeting President Donald Trump on June 12, in the latest attempt by the two Korean leaders to keep recent engagement efforts on track.
The remarks by Mr. Moon came a day after the two Korean leaders met for an unannounced summit at the inter-Korean truce village of Panmunjom on Saturday, in the second meeting between the two men in as many months.
Mr. Moon said the North Korean leader reached out to him on Friday for talks, and that the two sides agreed to meet at Panmunjom in a surprise summit that Mr. Moon said on Sunday was “like a routine meeting between friends.”
The meeting, together with optimistic remarks from Mr. Trump on Saturday, marked a swift reversal from Thursday, when Mr. Trump wrote an open letter to Mr. Kim calling off plans for a meeting and instead reminded the North Korean leader of the power of the U.S. nuclear arsenal.
North Korea’s main building in the Joint Security Area, command post
Sources: Google (images); OpenStreetMap (Military Demarcation Line)
On Sunday, Mr. Moon said that he and Mr. Kim expected plans for a June 12 summit in Singapore between Messrs. Trump and Kim to be a success, and added that he hoped to later hold a trilateral meeting with the U.S. president and North Korean leader.
Mr. Moon said Mr. Kim had expressed concerns at their Saturday meeting about whether the U.S. “could be fully trusted to guarantee his regime’s survival” if North Korea were to give up its nuclear weapons.
“I conveyed President Trump’s message that the U.S. would guarantee his regime’s survival and provide economic aid if North Korea pursues complete denuclearization,” Mr. Moon said.
Asked by a reporter if Mr. Kim had agreed to the U.S.’s call for complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization, Mr. Moon said that the U.S. and North Korea needed to work together to come to an agreement on the nuclear issue.
“North Korea has pledged its intent to pursue complete denuclearization,” Mr. Moon said. “Both sides should try to diffuse misunderstandings by meeting face-to-face.”
Mr. Moon also said that the details of the meeting with Mr. Kim were “conveyed to the U.S.,” though he didn’t make clear whether the communication with Washington took place before or after the meeting.
A senior South Korean presidential adviser told reporters separately on Sunday that the two Koreas are also discussing a possible “nonaggression pact” between Pyongyang and Washington, in which the two sides would promise to refrain from taking unilateral military action against the other.
Saturday’s meeting—the fourth in history between leaders of the two Koreas—was the latest turn in a series of diplomatic maneuvers as the U.S. and South Korea seek to rein in North Korea’s nuclear ambitions.
It followed an April 27 summit between Messrs. Moon and Kim on the south side of the line dividing the inter-Korean truce village of Panmunjom, at which the two men signed a Panmunjom Declaration vowing an end to war and hostilities between the two sides.
- Trump Revives Hopes of North Korea Summit (May 25)
- Trump Administration Resumes Pressure Campaign on North Korea(May 25)
- North Korea, While Professing Peace, Escalated Cyberattacks on South (May 25)
- President Donald Trump Cancels North Korea Summit (May 24)
- Where North and South Korea Meet(April 26)
It also came days after Mr. Trump abruptly scrapped a planned summit with Mr. Kim in Singapore on June 12—only to say a day later that it might still take place.
Mr. Trump said late Saturday in the Oval Office that plans for a U.S.-North Korea summit were now “moving along pretty well.”
“We’re looking at June 12 in Singapore. That hasn’t changed,” Mr. Trump said, adding that “there’s a lot of good will.”
“We can be successful in the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” Mr. Trump said.
Earlier Saturday, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said an advance team from the White House would travel to Singapore on Sunday, as scheduled, to prepare for a summit should it take place.
Even so, Mr. Moon’s assertion on Sunday that Mr. Kim had agreed to “completely denuclearize the Korean Peninsula” left ambiguity about whether Pyongyang would agree to U.S. demands for complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization, said Jonathan Pollack, a nonresident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.
“Moon seems to believe that Kim’s aspirational commitment to ‘the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula’ ought to suffice,” Mr. Pollack said. He called on the Trump administration to engage in more direct conversations with Pyongyang on what he called “the defining question” of the engagement process.
“This is a conversation that should have begun as soon as Trump indicated that he was prepared to meet with Kim, not with barely more than two weeks before it’s wheels up for Singapore,” he said.
Earlier on Sunday, North Korea through its state media confirmed the summit with Mr. Moon and the discussion of the planned Singapore summit, saying that the meeting between Messrs. Moon and Kim happened “all of a sudden.”
“Kim Jong Un thanked Moon Jae In for much effort made by him for the DPRK-U.S. summit scheduled for June 12, and expressed his fixed will on the historic DPRK-U.S. summit talks,” the North Korean report said, referring to North Korea by the abbreviation for its formal name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. It added that the two Koreas had agreed to “meet frequently in the future,” and portrayed the relationship between Messrs. Moon and Kim in warm terms.
The two Koreas will meet again for working-level talks on June 1, in a resumption of dialogue that Pyongyang had scuttled earlier this month, when it criticized South Korea for participating in an air force drill with the U.S., and for failing to muzzle a North Korean defector’s criticisms of Pyongyang’s recent outreach efforts.
Just days before the surprise summit at the DMZ, North Korea’s state media had lashed out at the U.S., saying that it wouldn’t participate in any summit if the U.S. was focused on Pyongyang giving up its nuclear weapons. It also criticized Vice President Mike Pence as a “political dummy.” The remarks were cited by Mr. Trump as the reason for the scrapping of the planned Singapore summit.
The tone from Pyongyang was markedly different on Saturday. Mr. Kim told Mr. Moon that they should work together to improve U.S.-North Korea relations, and thanked the South Korean leader for his efforts, the North’s report said.
Go Myong-hyun of the Asan Institute for Policy Studies, a private think tank in Seoul, said the two Korean leaders may have been motivated by an attempt to stave off a return to U.S.-led pressure and sanctions against Pyongyang, as Mr. Trump said this week.
“The ultimate goal of this summit was to ensure that ‘maximum pressure’ doesn’t surface again in Washington after the cancellation of the U.S.-North Korea summit,” Mr. Go said.
Mr. Moon had been a chief proponent of direct talks between Washington and Pyongyang, and said he was “perplexed” by Mr. Trump’s cancellation of the meeting.
Photos and video released by the presidential Blue House on Saturday showed Mr. Moon in a bear hug with Mr. Kim, and the two men wearing broad grins as they shook hands. They met at Unification Pavilion, a building on the north side of the military demarcation line, the South said.
Other photos showed Mr. Moon being greeted by Mr. Kim’s younger sister, Kim Yo Jong, and the South Korean leader sitting across a table with Mr. Kim and Kim Yong Chol, a four-star North Korean general who has been a constant presence at his leader’s side in recent weeks. Mr. Moon was accompanied by Suh Hoon, the South’s spy chief.
Jenny Town, a research analyst at the Stimson Center think tank in Washington and managing editor of 38 North, a North Korea-focused blog, said Mr. Moon’s ability to hold a snap meeting with Mr. Kim highlights the willingness of both leaders to engage in back-channel diplomacy.
“They feel comfortable enough to have direct communication and to be able to meet on short notice,” Ms. Town said, adding that the body language between them underscored that.
Mr. Kim greeted Mr. Moon, she said, “like an old friend, instead of [with] an awkward handshake.”
—Vivian Salama in Washington contributed to this article.