Kim signals expectation of better ties with US

Visiting South Korean President Moon Jae-in greeting the crowd with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un next to him during a parade in Pyongyang yesterday. In a sign of respect, North Korea welcomed Mr Moon with a 21-gun salute, an honour not extended to
Visiting South Korean President Moon Jae-in greeting the crowd with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un next to him during a parade in Pyongyang yesterday. In a sign of respect, North Korea welcomed Mr Moon with a 21-gun salute, an honour not extended to previous visiting South Korean presidents.PHOTO: REUTERS

Moon praises his 'bold decision' to open new era and calls for push to advance nuclear talks

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has signalled some progress in ties with the United States as he hosted a high-stakes visit by South Korean President Moon Jae-in.

Mr Moon, who mediated a historic summit between Mr Kim and US President Donald Trump in June, is expected to help move along stalled denuclearisation negotiations between the two sides.

The signs so far appear positive.

Before their first round of talks yesterday, Mr Kim voiced gratitude to Mr Moon for helping to initiate dialogue with the US, and added that "a more advanced outcome is expected" in US-North Korea ties.

Mr Moon, in return, praised the younger leader's "bold decision" to open a new era. He also called for efforts to advance the nuclear talks, which stalled over the US' refusal to grant concessions until the North has taken concrete steps towards nuclear disarmament.

"I can feel the heavy responsibility that comes with the weight we have to bear," he told Mr Kim.

Accompanied by an entourage of politicians, business leaders and K-pop artists, Mr Moon yesterday arrived to much fanfare on his fifth trip to the North. He is slated to return home tomorrow.

Mr Moon, the son of North Korean refugees who fled to the South during the 1950-1953 Korean War, first stepped onto North Korean soil in 2004. He was accompanying his mother to a reunion of separated families at Mount Kumgang, where she met her long-lost sister.

He visited the joint Kaesong Industrial Complex on North Korea's side of the border in 2007, and stepped across the border twice earlier this year for talks with Mr Kim.

 
 
 
 

On this trip - Mr Moon's first to Pyongyang - he is slated to hold at least two rounds of talks with Mr Kim to discuss issues including denuclearisation and easing military tension. A joint press conference is expected to be held later today.

There is also speculation of a side trip for Mr Moon. It could be to Mount Baekdu as he is an avid hiker, or to the Kumsusan Palace of the Sun, which serves as a mausoleum for former leaders Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il.

In a sign of respect, North Korea welcomed Mr Moon with a 21-gun salute, an honour not extended to then South Korean presidents Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun when they visited Pyongyang in 2000 and 2007, respectively. North Korean officials addressed Mr Moon as "Your Excellency", another first.

For the first time, North Korea allowed a live broadcast to the outside world. Korean Central Television provided live footage of Mr Moon's arrival and welcome ceremony, even though it was not shown on local TV.

Experts said a lot hinges on this visit, which came as Mr Trump accepted an invitation from Mr Kim to hold a second summit to try to break the nuclear impasse.

The best outcome, according to Asian politics expert Sean King of US-based consulting firm Park Strategies, is North Korea declaring its nuclear weapons "without Moon giving too much in return".

Dr Lee Seong-hyon, director of unification strategy at the Sejong Institute think-tank, noted the significance of Mr Moon's notable business entourage, which includes Samsung Group vice-chairman Lee Jae-yong and Hyundai Motor vice-president Kim Yong-hwan.

"It is meant to signal to Kim that if you denuclearise, I am ready to help. It is not empty talk. Look who I brought here with me? I am serious in my willingness to help you. But nuclear weapons are the obstacle. Please get rid of the obstacle so that I can help you," he said.

Law professor Song Se-ryun of Kyung Hee University warned of dire consequences if the talks end badly. He said on Arirang TV: "There will be big disappointment and lost opportunities because a lot is riding on this. It will confirm North Korea cannot be trusted."

• Additional reporting by Dami Shi

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 19, 2018, with the headline 'Kim signals expectation of better ties with US'. Print Edition | Subscribe