SEOUL: US President Donald Trump has rejected suggestions that he could allow concessions on North Korean sanctions, during discussions in Washington with South Korean President Moon Jae-in.
At a press conference at the White House, Trump suggested that he would be open to dialogue with Pyongyang on the condition of complete denuclearization.
“I think that sanctions are, right now, at a level that’s a fair level. And I really believe something very significant is going to happen,” he said. “We could always increase them, but I didn’t want to do that at this time.”
There had been suggestions that some sanctions could be eased in order to facilitate cross-border economic projects, but Trump stated: “This isn’t the right time.”
Inter-Korean initiatives, including an industrial park, railway link and tourism opportunities, have been suspended as a result of the North conducting a series of intercontinental ballistic missile and nuclear warhead tests.
Moon expressed hope that a new summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un could jump-start the denuclearization process, after the collapse of the Trump-Kim summit in Hanoi in February.
“The important task that I face is to maintain dialogue and also express to the international community that a third US-North Korea Summit will be held in the near future,” Moon told reporters in the Oval Office. “The Republic of Korea is absolutely on the same page when it comes to the complete denuclearization of North Korea.”
Trump remained cautious about a third encounter with Kim, but did not rule it out.
“A third summit could happen. It’s step by step, it’s not a fast process … If it goes fast, it’s not going to be a proper deal.”
There remain doubts over the South’s optimism for progress, however. Moon Keun-shik, an analyst at the Korea Defense and Security Forum, said: “Moon was not able to hear what he had wanted from Trump, but he has cemented his role as the mediator over the nuclear issue.”
Many North Korea experts, though, also queried Moon’s ability to bridge the gap between Trump and Kim.
“Moon and Trump failed to narrow a gap over practical issues, including sanctions on North Korea,” said Chung Se-hyun, a former minister for Korean unification. “If you say there was no deal at the Hanoi Summit, there is also no deal from this Moon-Trump summit.”
Shin Bum-cheol, director of the Center for Security and Unification at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies, said Moon’s pursuit of a “good enough deal” for partial relief of sanctions in exchange for gradual denuclearization was rebuffed by Trump, leaving Seoul little option but to persuade Pyongyang to meet US terms.
“I question if Kim will accept Moon’s proposal to hold a summit, as he has shown his resolution to respond to the current sanctions,” Shin said.
North Korean state media reported Kim had vowed a “serious blow” to those imposing sanctions on his regime prior to the Trump-Moon Summit, during an address to the central committee of the ruling Workers’ Party in Pyongyang on Wednesday.
The remark was construed as a firm stance against economic and trade sanctions imposed by the international community, rather than a threat, as it did not explicitly mention the South, the US, nor threaten military action.