Korean leaders hold surprise talks on Trump-Kim summit; Kim Jong Un expresses 'fixed will' to meet Trump

South Korean President Moon Jae In and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un hold their second summit at Tongilgak, on North Korea's side of the truce village of Panmunjom, on May 26, 2018.
South Korean President Moon Jae In and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un hold their second summit at Tongilgak, on North Korea's side of the truce village of Panmunjom, on May 26, 2018.PHOTO: SOUTH KOREA BLUE HOUSE
South Korean President Moon Jae In meets North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's sister Kim Yo Jong at Tongilgak, on North Korea's side of the truce village of Panmunjom, on May 26, 2018.
South Korean President Moon Jae In meets North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's sister Kim Yo Jong at Tongilgak, on North Korea's side of the truce village of Panmunjom, on May 26, 2018.PHOTO: SOUTH KOREA BLUE HOUSE
South Korean President Moon Jae In and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un hold their second summit at Tongilgak, on North Korea's side of the truce village of Panmunjom, on May 26, 2018.
South Korean President Moon Jae In and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un hold their second summit at Tongilgak, on North Korea's side of the truce village of Panmunjom, on May 26, 2018.PHOTO: SOUTH KOREA BLUE HOUSE
South Korean President Moon Jae In and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un hold their second summit at Tongilgak, on North Korea's side of the truce village of Panmunjom, on May 26, 2018.
South Korean President Moon Jae In and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un hold their second summit at Tongilgak, on North Korea's side of the truce village of Panmunjom, on May 26, 2018.PHOTO: SOUTH KOREA BLUE HOUSE

SEOUL (REUTERS, AFP) - South Korean President Moon Jae In met North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on Saturday (May 26) to discuss Kim's possible upcoming summit with US President Donald Trump, the South said, the second inter-Korean summit in as many months.

Moon and Kim met for two hours just north of the heavily militarised border in the afternoon to exchange views to pave way for a summit between North Korea and the US, South Korea's presidential office said.

Moon will announce the outcome of his two-hour meeting with Kim on Sunday 10am (9am Singapore time), officials said.

"The two leaders exchanged their opinions candidly to implement the April 27 Panmunjom Declaration and to have a successful North Korea-US summit," Moon's chief press secretary Yoon Young Chan was quoted as saying.

The North's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) later confirmed the meeting, adding that Moon and Kim have agreed to hold high-level talks on June 1. 

KCNA also reported that Kim had expressed his "fixed will" on the summit with Trump. 

On Thursday, Trump cancelled his upcoming meeting with Kim which had been due to take place in Singapore on June 12 - only to reverse course a day later and say it could still go ahead after productive talks were held with the North Korean oficials. 

The surprise Kim-Moon meeting on Saturday is the latest dramatic turn in a week of diplomatic flip-flops surrounding the unprecedented summit between the United States and North Korea, and the strongest sign yet that the two Korean leaders are trying to keep the on-again off-again summit on track.

A White House team will leave as scheduled for Singapore this weekend to prepare for the possible June 12 summit, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said late on Saturday.

“The White House pre-advance team for Singapore will leave as scheduled in order to prepare should the summit take place,” she said. 

Reuters reported earlier this week the team was scheduled to discuss the agenda and logistics for the summit with North Korean officials. The delegation was to include White House Deputy Chief of Staff Joseph Hagin and deputy national security adviser Mira Ricardel, US officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity.  

The original decision to abandon the historic summit blindsided South Korea which had brokered a remarkable detente between Washington and Pyongyang after months of Kim and Trump trading insults and threats of war. 

Pictures released by the Blue House showed Moon shaking hands with both Kim and his sister Kim Yo Jong, who has played a major public role in recent talks with the South, including leading a delegation across the border during February’s Winter Olympics.

The meeting between Moon and Kim took place in a grand building on the North Korean side of Panmunjom, a surreal and heavily fortified village that lies between the two countries and marks the spot where the armistice ending the Korean War in 1953 was signed.

The previous summit was held at the southern side of the border. 

They were accompanied by South Korean intelligence chief Suh Hoon and his North Korean counterpart Kim Yong Chol, who is in charge of inter-Korean affairs. 

Video and a photo released by the presidential Blue House on Saturday showed Kim hugging Moon as he saw Moon off after their meeting 

Moon is the only South Korean leader to have met a North Korean leader twice, both times in the DMZ, a symbol of unending hostilities after the Korean War ended in a truce, not a peace treaty.

Former South Korean leaders Kim Dae Jung and Roh Moo Hyun met with Kim Jong Un’s late father, Kim Jong Il, in Pyongyang in 2000 and 2007, respectively. 

TRUMP HAILS “PRODUCTIVE TALKS”

Trump said on Friday that Washington was having “productive talks” with Pyongyang about reinstating the June 12 meeting, just a day after cancelling it. Trump said in a Twitter post late on Friday: “We are having very productive talks about reinstating the Summit which, if it does happen, will likely remain in Singapore on the same date, June 12th., and, if necessary, will be extended beyond that date.”

Trump had earlier indicated the summit could be salvaged after welcoming a conciliatory statement from North Korea saying it remained open to talks. 

“It was a very nice statement they put out,” Trump told reporters at the White House. “We’ll see what happens – it could even be the 12th.”

“We’re talking to them now. They very much want to do it. We’d like to do it,” he said. 

The comments came just a day after Trump cited Pyongyang’s “open hostility” in cancelling the meeting. 

THREATS, INSULTS

After years of tension over Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons programme, Kim and Trump agreed this month to hold what would be the first meeting between a serving US president and a North Korean leader. The plan followed months of war threats and insults between the leaders over North Korea’s development of missiles capable of reaching the United States. 

Trump scrapped the meeting in a letter to Kim on Thursday after repeated threats by North Korea to pull out over what it saw as confrontational remarks by US officials demanding unilateral disarmament. Trump cited North Korean hostility in cancelling the summit. 

In Pyongyang, North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kye Gwan said North Korea’s criticisms had been a reaction to American rhetoric and that current antagonism showed “the urgent necessity” for the summit.  He said North Korea regretted Trump’s decision to cancel and remained open to resolving issues “regardless of ways, at any time.”

Kim Kye Gwan said North Korea had appreciated Trump having made the bold decision to work toward a summit. 

“We even inwardly hoped that what is called ‘Trump formula’ would help clear both sides of their worries and comply with the requirements of our side and would be a wise way of substantial effect for settling the issue,” he said. 

North Korea also went ahead with a plan to destroy its only known nuclear site on Thursday, the most concrete action yet since pledging to cease all nuclear and long-range missile tests last month.  Dozens of international journalists left North Korea on Saturday after observing the demolition of the underground tunnels in Punggye-ri, where all of the North’s six nuclear tests were conducted including its latest and largest in September. 

Trump’s latest about-face sent officials scrambling in Washington. Defence Secretary James Mattis told reporters diplomats were “still at work” and said Trump had just sent a note out on the summit, which could be back on “if our diplomats can pull it off.”

US State Department spokeswoman Katina Adams declined to give details of any diplomatic contacts but said: “As the president said in his letter to Chairman Kim, dialogue between the two is the only dialogue that matters. If North Korea is serious, then we look forward to hearing from them at the highest levels.”

White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders told reporters Trump did not want a meeting that was “just a political stunt.”

“He wants to get something that’s a long-lasting and an actual real solution. And if they are ready to do that then ... we’re certainly ready to have those conversations,” she said.