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Hard to make predictions about fourth inter-Korean summit: unification minister

Unification Minister Kim Yeon-chul said Sunday that the government is making a concerted effort to restart talks between the United States and North Korea at the earliest possible date.

“Following the meeting in Hanoi, restarting the US-North Korea summit has become very crucial. From that perspective, President Moon Jae-in proposed holding an inter-Korean summit (in order to support the US-North Korea talks),” Kim said on a KBS television show. 

South Korean Unification Minister Kim Yeon-chul (Yonhap)
South Korean Unification Minister Kim Yeon-chul (Yonhap)

As US President Donald Trump will travel to South Korea to meet President Moon Jae-in after the G-20 summit in Japan at the end of this month, some analysts suggested that it would be desirable to hold an inter-Korean summit before Trump arrives here.

Kim agreed that substantial discussions between Moon and Trump would increase the chances of reviving nuclear negotiations.

“It would be great if we could do that (hold an inter-Korean summit) but the situation is not so good for such optimism,” he said. “We are in a situation where it is difficult to strike a note of pessimism or optimism.”

Negotiations on denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula have been stalled since the second summit between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in February ended without a deal when the two sides failed to narrow their gaps over the scope of Pyongyang’s denuclearization and Washington’s sanctions relief.

“Most observers looking at the current situation will agree on making good use of this diplomatic opportunity, but US-North Korea negotiations are not like climbing a mountain. It’s like you have to cross a mountain range,” said the minister, stressing the many difficulties that stand in the way of breaking the impasse.

Although Washington and Pyongyang differ on the details of a potential agreement, the two sides are in the process of finding common ground within a larger context and frame, he said.

Regarding the method of the South’s planned food aid to the North, Kim said the government is considering sending humanitarian assistance via international organizations for now.

Seoul has been considering providing food aid to the North, either directly or through international agencies, in addition to the $8 million it will provide to support humanitarian programs for North Korea operated by the World Food Program and the United Nations Children’s Fund. The dispatch of funds was approved last week.

Asked if the food aid would consist of rice, he said South Korea’s total rice inventory stands at some 1.3 million tons and the government spends some 480 billion won ($405 million) each year in storage costs.

“I would like people to take that into consideration,” he said in an apparent move to seek understanding from those who oppose the government’s decision to support the North.

While Pyongyang has been requesting food assistance from the World Food Program, the regime has not been discussing the matter with Seoul.

“There has not been sufficient close dialogue between the two Koreas,” he said.

By Park Han-na (