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Denuclearization, improving relations at top of summit agenda

Facilitating US-North Korea talks and easing inter-Korean military tension is the aim of the inter-Korean summit, President Moon Jae-in said Monday.

Moon is set to meet North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in Pyongyang on Tuesday. 

President Moon Jae-in speaks at the meeting with senior aides in Seoul on Monday. Yonhap
President Moon Jae-in speaks at the meeting with senior aides in Seoul on Monday. Yonhap

“My aim for the summit is to speak with Chairman Kim Jong-un with open hearts,” Moon said at Monday’s meeting with his senior aides, saying that building trust is key to improving inter-Korean relations.

Saying that he seeks a peace unaffected by international politics, Moon went on to say that building a permanent peace is the path to unification, adding he will focus on two elements.

“First is removing the possibility of armed clashes, and the fear of war,” Moon said.

“Second is facilitating North-US talks for denuclearization. This is not a matter on which we can take the lead , so (I) hope to speak frankly with Chairman Kim Jong-un to find a middle ground between the US’ demands for denuclearization and the North’s demands for ending hostilities and ensuring safety (of the regime).” 

A representation of the Korean Unification Flag is displayed on the main stairway of the Sejong Center for the Performing Arts in Seoul on Monday. (Yonhap)
A representation of the Korean Unification Flag is displayed on the main stairway of the Sejong Center for the Performing Arts in Seoul on Monday. (Yonhap)

According to Moon’s chief of staff Im Jong-seok, the two leaders will discuss three main agenda items, improving inter-Korean relations, North-US dialogue for denuclearization and reducing military tension.

Regarding the upcoming summit, Im said the fact that denuclearization was a major issue set this meeting apart from those held by past leaders of the two Koreas.

“Until recently, denuclearization was (a North-US issue), and neither the North nor the US were very happy about us raising the denuclearization issue,” Im said. He added that the degree to which the matter will be discussed and the level of consensus that Moon and Kim might reach would depend on their talks.

Im went on to say that despite the expectations for the summit to yield significant results regarding the matter, reality would inevitably impose constraints.

In response to related questions, Im elaborated that Moon hoped to “moderate and facilitate” US-North Korea talks in accordance with the expectations of both Kim and US President Donald Trump.

According to Cheong Wa Dae, in a recent phone conversation Trump requested that Moon act as the “chief negotiator” between the US and North Korea. As for Kim, when speaking with Moon’s special envoys earlier this month he is said to have expressed exasperation that the international community had “undervalued” the steps he believed he had already taken toward denuclearization.

“I believe the president will be able to fully convey what the US wants as he has gained detailed knowledge through numerous meetings and phone conversations (with Trump),” Im said.

However, he declined to say whether Moon planned to put forward a compromise for the US and North Korea or whether he would suggest a more concrete plan for denuclearization.

At a meeting with senior advisers to the summit preparations committee Thursday, Moon said North Korea should scrap its existing nuclear weapons program and nuclear materials, and that there was room for Washington and Pyongyang to end the current deadlock.

At the briefing, Im also outlined Moon’s itinerary, stressing that it was subject to change.

Moon is scheduled to leave for Pyongyang from Seoul Air Base in Seongnam, Gyeonggi Province, at 8:40 a.m. on Tuesday.

The South Korean president and his entourage will be received at the airport in Pyongyang with an official welcoming ceremony, where Kim could make a personal appearance, Im said.

According to Im, Moon and Kim will hold their first meeting in the afternoon, while South Korean first lady Kim Jung-sook will visit a children’s hospital and college of music.

The South Korean businesspeople accompanying Moon will meet with Ri Yong-nam, the North’s top economy official. The first day of the visit will conclude with a welcoming event and a state dinner hosted by the North.

Im said business leaders had accompanied the presidents on previous inter-Korean summits, and that no clear agendas had been set for their meetings.

Im said the two leaders were scheduled to continue talks Wednesday, and that a joint announcement on the meetings might take place in the late afternoon. He added that an agreement on military issues was also a possibility.

Im said Moon’s meeting with Kim on the first day set the summit apart from the two previous Pyongyang summits in that the leaders would hold talks in the absence of any prior meeting with high-level North Korean officials.

According to Im, late presidents Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun first met with Kim Yong-nam, North Korea’s ceremonial head of state, on the first days of their visits in 2000 and 2007, respectively, meeting with the then North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, the current leader’s father, on each of the second days.

On Wednesday afternoon, Moon and his entourage are scheduled to visit selected facilities in Pyongyang before attending a farewell dinner.

Moon is set to depart for Seoul on Thursday morning with no official ceremony, Im said, adding again that there could be changes to the itinerary.

By Choi He-suk (