The Korea Herald


[Analysis] Trust-building between Trump, Kim signals flexibility in upcoming working-level negotiations

By Park Han-na

Published : June 30, 2019 - 19:37

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Stalled denuclearization talks between Pyongyang and Washington gained new momentum after US President Donald Trump set foot in North Korea Sunday.

Following a meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un at Peace House in Panmunjom, Trump said that he had invited Kim to Washington. “Anytime he wants to do it. I think we want to take this down to the next step, let’s see what happens,” he told reporters. 

US President Donald Trump meets with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un at the border village of Panmunjom in the Demilitarized Zone, South Korea, Sunday. US President Donald Trump meets with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un at the border village of Panmunjom in the Demilitarized Zone, South Korea, Sunday.

Trump and Kim also agreed to resume working-level talks on denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, which have hit a deadlock since the two leaders failed to reach an agreement at their second summit in Vietnam in late February.

The US president said that Special Representative for North Korea Stephen Biegun would lead a negotiating team for the working-level meeting which will come in the “next two or three weeks.”

Experts here stressed the importance of upcoming working-level meetings to check on whether each side has lowered their expectations so as to enable narrowing the gap over the proposals made four months ago when they failed to reach a compromise.

With the surprise border meeting, a good mood has been created for finding a certain level of common ground in the denuclearization talks, said Hong Min, a research fellow at the Korea Institute for National Unification. .

“Given that the two leaders are trying to build trust again, they will depart from the old methods they had asserted previously and show some flexibility in the upcoming working-level negotiations,” he said.

Biegun, who arrived in Seoul on Thursday before Trump and arranged the US-North Korea meeting at the border village of Panmunjom, said at the Atlantic Council in Washington on June 19: “Both sides understand the need for a flexible approach. … We have to go beyond the formulas that for the past 25 years have failed to resolve this problem.”

Desperation has led Kim to accept Trump’s last-minute invitation to meet him that he posted on Twitter just a day earlier, said Chun Young-woo, a former national security adviser.

“I can see the North’s eager desire to get away from the current (economic) situation but I don’t know if it also indicates that it would like to change its conditions and stance (on the US),” Chun said.

Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University said that theatrical and symbolic moves are not sufficient for peacemaking.
“Reconciliation requires a sustainable political foundation; in the case of North Korea, that means denuclearization and improving human rights,” he said.

In Hanoi, the summit collapsed after Trump refused Kim’s offer to dismantle its main nuclear complex in Yongbyon in exchange for sanctions relief.

During a press conference after the South Korea-US summit Sunday, President Moon Jae-in said that the dismantling of the Yongbyon facilities is the “entrance to an irreversible stage toward complete denuclearization.”

By Park Han-na (