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Moon’s ex-aide says NK leader was candid

(Yonhap)
(Yonhap)

Former presidential chief of staff Im Jong-seok told a behind-the-scenes story about the 10 months of dialogue leading up to the most recent US-North Korea summit in February 2019 in a periodical to be published Friday.

In the summer issue of the Quarterly Changbi, Im said North Korean leader Kim Jong-un was “candid and confident” when he met with President Moon Jae-in for their first summit in April 2018 at the border village of Panmunjom.

Im, who sat in on the meeting, said: “The feeling after the two leaders’ conversation was relief and anticipation … (Kim’s) character was extremely candid and confident. I could read that he had a very firm will to resolve problems with the president.”

Im said the second summit between Moon and Kim a month later was “unexpected.”

As US President Donald Trump didn’t appear to be keen on meeting Kim, the North rushed to propose a second summit with Moon, who gladly accepted in a day, Im said.

The two rounds of inter-Korean summit talks eventually led to the first US-North Korea summit in June 2018 in Singapore.

Im also discussed Trump’s reaction when Chung Eui-yong, then chief of the presidential National Security Office, visited the White House in March 2018 just after visiting Pyongyang.

When Chung explained that Kim clearly intended to pursue denuclearization and wished to meet with Trump, the US president said to his aides, “See, I told you so,” according to Im.

Trump told Chung he intended to meet with Kim, asked Chung to talk to the press, and went to the White House press room to notify journalists of Chung’s press conference, Im said.

“President Trump deserves credit for trying to make something despite strong internal opposition … President Moon made enormous efforts, thinking President Trump’s style may allow him to break through reservation and opposition within the US,” the former chief of staff said.

Im also spoke about the abrupt pressure from Stephen Biegun, who was appointed as US Special Representative for North Korea just weeks before the third inter-Korean summit in September 2018 in Pyongyang.

Im stressed that Seoul had engaged in constant communication with Pyongyang and Washington to reach military agreements until Biegun demanded they stop everything until he understands what is going on and gives an okay.

“It was hard for us to accept. President Moon pushed ahead with inter-Korean military agreements and establishing of liaison offices, and sealed the deal two days before Biegun arrived in Korea,” Im said.

About the US-North Korea summit that broke down in February 2019 in Hanoi, Im said Trump’s attitude made it worth looking forward to.

“(Trump) was politically cornered with several scandals in the US at the time,” Im said, adding that pressure from the US congress and the government that “no deal” was better than a “bad deal” before Trump left for Hanoi appeared to have kept him from going further.

Im said Moon will try to push forward with things that the Koreas can work on their own, even if there is no progress in US-North Korea dialogue this year.

By Kim So-hyun (sophie@heraldcorp.com)
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