South Korean Envoy Visits North Korea to Help Revive Nuclear Talks
Chung Eui-yong, third from right, and other members of South Korea’s delegation, just before leaving for North Korea on Wednesday.CreditCreditPool photo by Jung Yeon-Je
SEOUL, South Korea — President Moon Jae-in of South Korea sent a special envoy to North Korea on Wednesday, hoping to help break the deadlock in the talks between the North and the United States over dismantling the North’s nuclear weapons program.
Chung Eui-yong, the national security adviser to Mr. Moon, met with Kim Jong-un, the North’s leader, during his brief trip to Pyongyang, the capital, according to Mr. Moon’s office. The presidential office said the results of Mr. Chung’s visit would be announced Thursday.
Mr. Chung’s entourage included Suh Hoon, the director of South Korea’s National Intelligence Service. Besides discussing obstacles to progress with the United States, they had also hoped to set a date and agenda for Mr. Moon’s meeting with Mr. Kim later this month in Pyongyang, which is expected to focus on sustaining the recent thaw in inter-Korean ties. Mr. Chung delivered a letter from Mr. Moon to Mr. Kim.
Mr. Chung and Mr. Suh helped facilitate some of the key recent developments in the diplomacy surrounding the North and its nuclear arms. During their last trip to Pyongyang, which took place in March, they dined with Mr. Kim and laid the groundwork for his first meeting with Mr. Moon, which took place in April at the border village of Panmunjom.
The South Korean officials later visited President Trump at the White House, where they relayed Mr. Kim’s proposal for a meeting between the two leaders — which Mr. Trump accepted on the spot.
At their ensuing talks in Singapore on June 12, Mr. Trump and Mr. Kim pledged to establish “new” relations and build “a lasting and stable peace regime” on the Korean Peninsula, while Mr. Kim agreed to “work toward complete denuclearization” of the peninsula.
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But their diplomats’ negotiations have since stalled over differences on how to implement that vaguely worded agreement. Mr. Trump abruptly canceled Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s planned visit to Pyongyang last week, citing a lack of progress in the talks.
The cancellation was a setback for Mr. Moon, whose hopes for improving the inter-Korean relationship could be jeopardized by the deadlock between Pyongyang and Washington.
Mr. Moon had to delay the opening of a liaison office in the North after Mr. Pompeo’s trip was canceled. Last month, American military commanders in Seoul stopped South Korea’s plan to send a train across the inter-Korean border and run it on a North Korean railway, to test the rails’ condition.
Mr. Moon has promised to help modernize the North’s railways and roads as part of his engagement strategy, but Washington is wary of South Korea giving the North too much before it has made tangible progress toward denuclearization.
Mr. Moon hopes Mr. Chung’s trip will help to jump-start the stalled diplomacy. Mr. Moon discussed his plans with Mr. Trump by telephone on Tuesday, and the American president said he would wait for the South Korean envoy to bring good news from Pyongyang, Mr. Moon’s office said.
Before leaving for North Korea, Mr. Chung said progress in inter-Korean ties must be matched by progress in nuclear disarmament, a point the United States has repeatedly made. But he also stressed that a warming North-South relationship was crucial to that process, as Mr. Moon did in a speech last month.
“We consider improvements in inter-Korean relations a key driver for the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” Mr. Chung said. “If necessary, we should help advance denuclearization talks through improving inter-Korean ties.”
South Korea says one step that would help encourage the North to disarm is declaring an end to the Korean War, which was halted with an armistice in 1953. During their April summit meeting, Mr. Moon and Mr. Kim agreed to push for Washington to join them in declaring the war over by the end of this year, as a prelude to negotiating a formal peace treaty.
But Washington says the North must take more concrete steps toward denuclearization, including submitting a full inventory of its nuclear weapons, facilities and fissile materials, before that can be considered. American officials fear that once such a declaration is made, North Korea will demand that the United States stop joint military exercises with South Korea and withdraw its tens of thousands of troops based there.
On Tuesday, a commentary in North Korea’s main state-run newspaper, the Rodong Sinmun, said the United States was standing in the way of friendlier relations with the South, accusing it of a “dim and twisted” attitude.
“The U.S. must realize that the more the inter-Korean relations improve, the better it will be for the U.S.,” it said.