South Korean President Moon lauds upcoming Trump-Kim summit but analysts urge caution

The Trump-Kim summit, due to take place by late May 2018, will be the first-ever between a sitting US president and a North Korean leader.
The Trump-Kim summit, due to take place by late May 2018, will be the first-ever between a sitting US president and a North Korean leader.PHOTO: AFP

SEOUL - South Korean President Moon Jae In has hailed the forthcoming planned summit between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un as a "historic milestone," saying that it could pave the way for the complete denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula although analysts were less upbeat.

Mr Moon, whose envoy to North Korea announced the summit in Washington on Thursday evening (March 8), also praised the two leaders for making a "difficult decision reflecting their courage and wisdom" and thanked other world leaders for their attention to the issue.

"The Korean government will cherish this miraculous opportunity and make progress in a sincere, careful and steady manner," he was quoted as saying in a a statement from the presidential office.

The Trump-Kim summit, due to take place by late May, will be the first-ever between a sitting US president and a North Korean leader.

It would follow another high-level encounter between Mr Kim and the South Korean President. The North Korean leader is scheduled to travel to the South Korean side of the demilitarised zone for a summit with Mr Moon in April - the latest in a flurry of diplomatic moves between the two Koreas in the past two months to ease tensions on the peninsula sparked by Pyongyang's persistent missile and nuclear tests.

Experts in South Korea, while welcoming the two summits, warned of possible ramifications ahead.

Political commentator David Lee told The Straits Times that North Korea may demand a huge amount of compensation for denuclearisation, or seek other concessions that the US and its ally, South Korea, will be unable to accommodate.

 
 

"The talks will be really historic, but nobody knows how they will unfold. Talks may ease tensions, but make no specific advances in denuclearisation," he said.

He noted that the US still maintained a hardline stance against the North and will not accept anything less than complete, verifiable and irreversible abandonment of its nuclear arsenal.

Other analysts urged South Korea against siding with the North too much, saying Seoul risked becoming Mr Kim's bargaining chip as he seeks to to ease economic sanctions choking his isolated regime.

Mr Kim, who claimed last November that North Korea had completed its nuclear programme, has been on a charm offensive since early January, even sending his sister, who is reported to be pregnant, as an envoy to the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics to personally deliver an invitation to Mr Moon to visit Pyongyang.

Dr Park Jee Kwang of Sejong Institute told ST: "It seems Kim Jong Un is in the driver's seat and every other player is strongly influenced by him. He must be very happy that everything is happening as he planned."

Dr Park said Mr Kim must have made "some shocking good deal" that Mr Trump could not resist, but urged the US president to stick with its economic sanctions on the North until "clear and concrete results from talks" can be seen.

"As long as Trump doesn't trust North Korea and approach with caution, it will be okay. The worst thing (that can happen) is the US losing two years talking to North Korea but it doesn't go anywhere. But it should be okay as long as economic sanctions are still in place."