Leaders of two Koreas hold surprise meeting as Trump revives summit hope

Hope that US-North Korea summit may go ahead in June

 North Korean leader Kim Jong Un (right) and South Korean President Moon Jae-in shake hands before their meeting at the northern side of the Panmunjom in North Korea on Saturday. Photograph: South Korea Presidential Blue House/Yonhap via AP

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un (right) and South Korean President Moon Jae-in shake hands before their meeting at the northern side of the Panmunjom in North Korea on Saturday. Photograph: South Korea Presidential Blue House/Yonhap via AP

 

South Korean President Moon Jae-in held a surprise meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on Saturday to ensure a summit between Kim and US President Donald Trump goes off successfully, South Korean officials said.

It was the clearest sign yet that the on-again off-again summit between Mr Trump and Mr Kim is likely to be held as initially agreed, in Singapore on June 12th.

The unannounced meeting at the Panmunjom border village between Moon and Kim came a month after they held the first inter-Korean summit in more than a decade at the same venue and declared they would toward a nuclear-free Korean peninsula.

“The two leaders candidly exchanged views about making the North Korea-US summit a successful one and about implementing the Panmunjom Declaration,” South Korea’s presidential spokesman said in a statement.

Mr Moon, who returned to Seoul earlier this week after a meeting with Mr Trump, will announce details of the meeting with Mr Kim on Sunday morning.

Mr Trump said on Friday that Washington was having “productive talks” with Pyongyang about reinstating the June 12th meeting, just a day after cancelling it.

Politico magazine reported that an advance team of 30 White House and State Department officials was preparing to leave for Singapore later this weekend.

It was reported earlier this week the team was scheduled to discuss the agenda and logistics for the summit with North Korean officials. The delegation was to include White House Deputy Chief of Staff Joseph Hagin and deputy national security adviser Mira Ricardel, US officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Mr Trump said in a Twitter post late on Friday: “We are having very productive talks about reinstating the Summit which, if it does happen, will likely remain in Singapore on the same date, June 12th, and, if necessary, will be extended beyond that date.”

Mr Trump had earlier indicated the summit could be salvaged after welcoming a conciliatory statement from North Korea saying it remained open to talks.

“It was a very nice statement they put out,” Trump told reporters at the White House. “We’ll see what happens - it could even be the 12th.”

“We’re talking to them now. They very much want to do it. We’d like to do it,” he said.

The comments came just a day after Mr Trump cancelled the meeting, citing Pyongyang’s “open hostility.”

After years of tension over Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons programme, Mr Kim and Mr Trump agreed this month to hold what would be the first meeting between a serving US president and a North Korean leader. The plan followed months of war threats and insults between the leaders over North Korea’s development of missiles capable of reaching the United States.

Mr Trump scrapped the meeting in a letter to Mr Kim on Thursday after repeated threats by North Korea to pull out over what it saw as confrontational remarks by US officials demanding unilateral disarmament. Trump cited North Korean hostility in cancelling the summit.

In Pyongyang, North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kye Gwan said North Korea’s criticisms had been a reaction to American rhetoric and that current antagonism showed “the urgent necessity” for the summit.

He said North Korea regretted Trump’s decision to cancel and remained open to resolving issues “regardless of ways, at any time.”

Kim Kye Gwan said North Korea had appreciated Trump having made the bold decision to work toward a summit.

“We even inwardly hoped that what is called ‘Trump formula’ would help clear both sides of their worries and comply with the requirements of our side and would be a wise way of substantial effect for settling the issue,” he said.

North Korea also went ahead with a plan to destroy its only known nuclear site on Thursday, the most concrete action yet since pledging to cease all nuclear and long-range missile tests last month.

Dozens of international journalists left North Korea on Saturday after observing the demolition of the underground tunnels in Punggye-ri, where all of the North’s six nuclear tests were conducted including its latest and largest in September. - Reuters