U.S. Officials Meet With North Koreans Despite Uncertainty Surrounding Trump-Kim Summit

A team of U.S. officials crossed into North Korea on Sunday for talks to prepare for a summit between President Trump and Kim Jong Un, as both sides pressed ahead with arrangements despite the question marks hanging over the meeting.

Kim Jong Un

Sung Kim, a former U.S. ambassador to South Korea and former nuclear negotiator with the North, has been called in from his post as envoy to the Philippines to lead the preparations, according to a person familiar with the arrangements.

The talks are focused on what would be the substance of a potential summit between Trump and Kim Jong Un — the issue of North Korea’s nuclear weapons program.

The talks are expected to continue Monday and Tuesday at Tongilgak, or “Unification House,” the building in the northern part of the demilitarized zone where Kim Jong Un met Moon on Saturday. That impromptu session was aimed at salvaging the summit that Trump had said he was scuppering just two days earlier.

The South Korean president, who is playing something of a mediator role in the talks, was optimistic afterward. “We two leaders agreed the June 12 North Korea-U.S. summit must be successfully held,” he said.

‘They’re playing a game’

In Washington, lawmakers and former U.S. intelligence officials expressed general support Sunday for proceeding with the summit, but many reacted skeptically to North Korea’s suggestion that it is open to discussing denuclearization.

“When we say ‘denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,’ this could be a two-way street,” Clapper said, also on “Face the Nation.”

Clapper suggested that a worthy goal for the summit might be to establish a “regular conduit for communication” between the two countries, perhaps including the opening of diplomatic interest sections in both capitals.

“This is not a reward for bad behavior at all,” Clapper said. “It’s mutually reciprocal and would give us that presence there, more insight and more understanding.” From North Korea’s point of view, he said, a U.S. presence in the country might give Pyongyang a “sense of security” against a possible U.S. attack.

Diplomat’s help hailed

Given all the ups and downs with the summit, many analysts were relieved to hear that the administration had enlisted Sung Kim to help, especially given the retirement of fellow seasoned diplomat Joseph Yun earlier this year.

“This is a great step,” said Vipin Narang, a nuclear nonproliferation expert at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, noting that the summit preparation was best handled by experts behind the scenes rather than in public forums such as Twitter.

Denuclearization doubts

Most analysts say it is extremely unlikely that North Korea will surrender its nuclear weapons. The United States has been pushing for “complete, verifiable and irreversible dismantlement” — a high bar that would require North Korea to relinquish its entire nuclear program and allow verification by international inspectors.

A separate U.S. team led by Joe Hagin, deputy chief of staff in the White House, is organizing logistics with Kim Chang Son, who is effectively the North Korean leader’s chief of staff.

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