SEOUL (NYTIMES, REUTERS) - Offering an olive branch to President Donald Trump, Kim Jong Un said as he met South Korean special envoys on Wednesday that he wants to denuclearise North Korea before Trump’s current term ends in early 2021, the envoy said Thursday (Sept 6).
Expressing frustration over what he called Washington’s failure to negotiate in good faith, Kim told the envoy, Chung Eui-yong, that he still had confidence in Trump.
He said he has never spoken badly of the US leader, even to his closest aides, since the two met in Singapore on June 12, according to Chung.
Trump, speaking in Washington, welcomed Kim’s remarks.
“Kim Jong Un of North Korea proclaims ‘unwavering faith in President Trump.’ Thank you to Chairman Kim. We will get it done together!” Trump wrote in a post on Twitter.
Kim added the two Koreas should keep advancing their joint ties that have neared a state of peace and reconciliation, and discussed with South Korean envoys the Pyongyang inter-Korean summit planned for September - coming to a satisfactory agreement, the North's state news agency KCNA reported separately on Thursday, without elaborating.
Chung was sent by President Moon Jae-in of South Korea to Pyongyang, the North Korean capital, on Wednesday in hopes of reviving the stalled talks between the North and the United States over how to denuclearise North Korea.
Moon plans to go to Pyongyang on Sept 18 to meet Kim and discuss improving the Koreas’ relationship, including potential economic cooperation.
At a televised news conference in Seoul, Chung said Kim had voiced frustration that his commitment to nuclear disarmament, which he expressed when he met with Moon in April and with Trump in June, was not taken seriously by much of the world.
Kim said that while North Korea had already taken important steps toward denuclearisation, Washington was not doing enough in return,
Chung said. “He strongly expressed his will to take more active steps for denuclearisation if the actions North Korea has already taken are matched by corresponding measures” from the United States, Chung said.
“He made it clear that his trust in President Trump remains – and will remain – unchanged, even though there have recently been some difficulties in negotiations between the North and the United States,” Chung said.
“He said he wished he could eliminate 70 years of hostile history with the United States, improve North Korea-US relations and realise denuclearisation within the first term of President Trump.”
Chung said Kim gave him messages to relay to Washington, which officials said were being sent to his US counterpart, John Bolton, Trump’s national security adviser. Chung did not reveal their contents, except to say that Kim wanted Washington’s assurances that he had not made a mistake when he committed to the denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula.
Taken at face value, Kim’s remarks, as relayed by the South Korean envoy, signalled that North Korea was willing to strike a denuclearisation deal personally with Trump, who has been more eager to engage North Korea than any of his predecessors.
They also suggested Kim could accept the rapid denuclearisation the Trump administration has sought – for the right incentives.
The Singapore meeting made Trump the first sitting US president to meet with a North Korean leader. He has since boasted of his “warm” relationship with the dictator, who has test-launched missiles capable of reaching the continental United States and been accused of gruesome human rights abuses, including the summary executions of his uncle and other political enemies.
Analysts said Kim was wooing Trump in hopes of dividing him from his hard-line advisers, in order to prevent the president from returning to the threats of military action that he made last year.
“Kim Jong Un is buying time,” said Lee Byong-chul, a senior fellow at the Institute for Peace and Cooperation in Seoul. “He probably saw that there was nothing good in provoking Trump,” especially when the US president “faces deepening legal trouble at home and disarray in his administration.”
KCNA said Kim had reaffirmed North Korea’s commitment to denuclearise during his meetings with Chung. But it fell short of saying whether
Kim would take major steps toward that goal.
Kim has not offered to provide a full inventory of nuclear weapons and fissile materials, as Washington has demanded. Nor has Kim offered any detailed plan for disarmament. He also repeated his country’s long-standing demand that denuclearisation must include the removal of a “nuclear threat” to North Korea, a common reference to US military exercises in the region.
During their meeting in Singapore, Trump and Kim pledged to establish “new” relations and build “a lasting and stable peace regime,” while
Kim agreed to “work towards complete denuclearisation” of the Korean Peninsula. But their diplomats’ negotiations have since stalled over differences on how to carry out that vaguely worded agreement.
Trump, after boasting that he had largely resolved the North Korean nuclear crisis, abruptly cancelled Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s planned visit to Pyongyang last week, citing a lack of progress in the denuclearisation talks. North Korea insists that it will move towards denuclearisation only “in phases” and in exchange for “simultaneous” reciprocal concessions from Washington, a principle that
Kim reiterated when he met with the South Korean envoy.
Chung said Kim brought up a series of confidence-building measures his country has taken this year, such as a moratorium on nuclear and missile tests, demolishing his country’s only nuclear test site and dismantling a missile engine-test facility.
He said Kim objected to the scepticism that had greeted those actions in some quarters, such as the suspicion that North Korea could reactivate its nuclear test site.
Kim said the underground site had been so thoroughly destroyed that no more tests could be carried out there. Kim also said the facility for testing missile engines was the only one in the North, and that its removal therefore meant a “complete halt to tests of long-range ballistic missiles,” Chung said.
The most immediate reciprocal step North Korea wants from Washington is to declare an end to the Korean War, which was halted with an armistice in 1953. But US officials fear that once such a declaration is made, North Korea will demand that the United States stop conducting joint military exercises with South Korea and withdraw its tens of thousands of troops based there.
Kim dismissed such concerns, saying that the declaration would “have nothing to do with” the South Korean-US alliance or any withdrawal of US troops, Chung said.
Moon’s spokesman said Thursday that Trump, in a recent conversation with Moon, had asked South Korea to be “chief negotiator” between the United States and North Korea. But Washington has also repeatedly warned South Korea against improving ties with Pyongyang without tangible progress toward denuclearisation.
Lee Sung-yoon, a professor of Korean studies at Tufts University, said that in its eagerness to improve ties, South Korea was coddling the North and exaggerating its willingness to denuclearise. He said Chung would take “happy” messages from Pyongyang to the White House and argue that Trump “can do business with Kim.”