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Moon, Trump hold ‘frank, serious’ talk on alliance, trade

WASHINGTON – President Moon Jae-in and US President Donald Trump held “frank and serious” talks over a majority of pending issues at a dinner in Washington on Thursday, Cheong Wa Dae officials said.

The two leaders met for the first time in a welcoming dinner at the White House ahead of their official summit, slated for Friday.

According to Cheong Wa Dae, Moon and Trump exchanged “very frank” views on a wide range of issues in Korea-US relations with “majority of issues raised” being mentioned. 

South Korean President Moon Jae-in (right) shakes hands with US President Donald Trump as he and his wife, Kim Jung-sook, arrived at the White House on June 29, 2017, for a dinner hosted by Trump and his wife, Melania, on the eve of the first Korea-US summit under the countries` new administrations. (Yonhap)
South Korean President Moon Jae-in (right) shakes hands with US President Donald Trump as he and his wife, Kim Jung-sook, arrived at the White House on June 29, 2017, for a dinner hosted by Trump and his wife, Melania, on the eve of the first Korea-US summit under the countries` new administrations. (Yonhap)

“Throughout the meeting, the two leaders’ conversation was serious and frank, and many issues surrounding the Korean Peninsula were discussed,” Yoon young-chan, chief press secretary to Moon, said.

“The conversation was somewhat tense at the start, but as it progressed the tone became more amicable.”

Officially, the summit is aimed at building trust and personal relations between the two leaders. However, a host of difficult issues ranging from North Korea and the deployment of the US Terminal High Altitude Area Defense missile system, and the Korea-US Free Trade Agreement have been mentioned as possible sticking points of the summit.

The dinner was followed shortly by a tweet from Trump that prompted speculations that the Korea-US FTA could be up for a retune. In his latest tweet, Trump said that had just finished “a very good meeting” with Moon where many subjects were discussed “including North Korea and new trade deal!”

Seoul’s presidential office, however, declined to elaborate.

While Cheong Wa Dae focused on the overall tone of the meeting, emphasizing the friendly atmosphere, the outspoken character of the US leader displayed in the tweet was apparent from the start. 

President Moon Jae-in (left) meets with US President Donald Trump at the White House in Washington, DC on Thursday. (Yonhap)
President Moon Jae-in (left) meets with US President Donald Trump at the White House in Washington, DC on Thursday. (Yonhap)

“I know you‘ve been discussing with our people some of the complexities of North Korea and trade and other things, and we’ll be discussing them all as we progress, and it could be very well late into the evening,” Trump was quoted as saying by US media.

Trump was referring to Moon’s meetings with leaders of the Congress, held earlier in the day where he reiterated the goal of denuclearizing the North, saying that a solution was “likelier than ever” with Trump in office.

“As it is a matter of top priority for President Trump, the possibility of resolving the issue is higher than ever. In the past, South Korea and the US placed importance in the matter but did not take concrete action. (I) plan to seek fundamental solutions with President Trump,” Moon said during his meeting with House of Representatives’ leaders including Speaker Paul Ryan. 

At the meeting, Moon also said that while China has had positive influence on Pyongyang in missile and nuclear issues, Beijing’s role in the issue has room to grow.

Moon also ruled out resuming inter-Korean business projects without positive developments in the nuclear issue, reflecting his idea of “action for action” in dealing with the North.

“Kaesong Industrial Complex and Mount Kumgang tours had the effect of educating (North Koreans) that market economy, and (political system of) South Korea is better,” Moon said.

“However, the projects cannot be easily resumed. (Resumption) can only be discussed when serious talks on ending the North’s nuclear program begins, and it must be considered within the framework of international cooperation, and requires close negotiations with the US.”

Tours to Mount Kumgang was suspended in 2008 when a South Korean tourist was shot and killed by a North Korean soldier, and the Kaesong complex has been idle since early 2016.




Moon’s visit leading up to the summit has been met with praise, but experts say that both sides have much riding on the summit, which comes at a difficult time.

“This is a high-stakes visit, given the escalating tensions with North Korea over its nuclear and ballistic missile programs, and the signs of a divergence between the Moon and Trump administrations over how to deal with the North,” Alexander Vershbow, a distinguished fellow of the US think-tank Atlantic Council and former US ambassador to Korea.

“One encouraging sign: President Moon Jae-in has taken steps in the lead-up to the visit to downplay differences surrounding the deployment of THAAD missile defense systems, which are vital for deterring North Korean aggression and protecting US troops stationed in the Republic of Korea.”

Vershbow also projected that Moon and Trump would have difficulties seeing eye-to-eye on North Korea. Moon hopes to engage North Korea provided that Pyongyang cooperates in denuclearization efforts, while Washington considers similar approaches of past Seoul governments as an “utter failure” Vershbow said.

By Choi He-suk (cheesuk@heraldcorp.com)
Korea Herald correspondent
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