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South Korea's Moon pushes ahead on plan to meet North Korea's Kim
[SEOUL] President Moon Jae-in of South Korea sees a more urgent need to travel to North Korea next month and meet with its leader, Kim Jong Un, now that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's planned trip there this week has been cancelled, Moon's office said Wednesday.
North and South Korea had earlier agreed to hold a third summit in Pyongyang, the North Korean capital, next month. But Mr Moon had hoped that Mr Pompeo would break a logjam in talks over denuclearising the North, making it easier for him to push his agenda of increasing economic and other inter-Korean ties when he sat down with Mr Kim.
Mr Moon's plan was cast into doubt after President Donald Trump on Friday abruptly cancelled Mr Pompeo's trip.
But on Wednesday, Mr Moon's office said he was intent on working as a mediator between Mr Kim and Mr Trump, just as he helped broker their first meeting in June.
"Now that North Korea and the United States remain deadlocked, a new South-North Korean summit meeting, if anything, will play an even bigger role in helping resolve problems and overcoming obstacles," Kim Eui-kyeom, a spokesman for Mr Moon, said Wednesday.
In Washington on Tuesday, Heather Nauert, a State Department spokesman, did not voice an objection to another meeting of the Korean leaders but reminded Mr Moon of his repeated promise to keep any progress in inter-Korean relations tied to progress in denuclearizing the North.
US analysts have raised concerns that Mr Moon's eagerness to improve inter-Korean ties may undermine Washington's efforts to apply "maximum pressure" on the North to denuclearise, although Mr Moon's aides called such fears unwarranted.
Mr Moon's office reaffirmed that he was keen to meet Mr Kim, doing so a day after Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said that the Pentagon had "no plans at this time to suspend" joint military exercises with South Korea. Coming only days after the cancellation of Mr Pompeo's trip, Mr Mattis' comments were widely taken as indicating that the Pentagon may revive the exercises.
After Mr Trump met Mr Kim in Singapore, the United States and South Korean militaries nodded to diplomatic progress by suspending several of their major annual joint military exercises. North Korea has traditionally protested these drills, calling them rehearsals for invasion.
Both Seoul and Washington have said they have not decided about future exercises, including large-scale drills scheduled for next spring, indicating that it will depend on whether North Korea moves towards denuclearising.
On Wednesday, the South Korean government played down the significance of Mr Mattis' comments, saying they reiterated an existing American-South Korean joint policy. It said there had been no discussion between the allies on whether and when to resume major military exercises.
In his meeting with Mr Trump in Singapore, Mr Kim offered a vague commitment to "work towards the complete denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula" in return for Mr Trump's commitment to build "new" bilateral ties with North Korea and a "lasting and stable peace regime" on the peninsula.
But bilateral talks have since stalled over differences over how to carry out the deal, leading to the cancellation of Mr Pompeo's North Korea trip.
The latest hitch in the talks centres on the North's demand that the United States join the two Koreas in jointly declaring an end to the 1950-53 Korean War, Suh Hoon, director of Seoul's National Intelligence Service, told a closed-door parliamentary hearing on Tuesday, according to lawmakers who briefed journalists on it. North Korea is seeking an end-of-the-war declaration as a prelude to negotiating a formal peace treaty to replace the armistice that halted the war.
But Washington insists that before such a declaration is made, North Korea must promise to dismantle its nuclear weapons, Mr Suh was quoted as saying.
North Korea says, as it has for years, that it will move towards denuclearisation only in "phases" and in exchange for "simultaneous" reciprocal concessions from Washington.
When Pompeo visited Pyongyang last month, North Korea accused him of making a "unilateral and gangsterlike demand for denuclearisation". It even shrugged off the significance of Washington's decision to suspend military exercises with the South, calling it "a highly reversible step which can be resumed anytime".