WASHINGTON: President Donald Trump will visit South Korea in June to meet with his counterpart Moon Jae-in over their efforts to persuade North Korea to scrap its nuclear weapons arsenal, the White House said Wednesday.
It will be the second meeting between the pair since the collapse of a summit between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi in February after they failed to reach a deal on denuclearisation.
“President Trump and President Moon will continue their close coordination on efforts to achieve the final, fully verified denuclearisation of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea,” the White House said in a statement, using North Korea’s official name.
The dovish South Korean president, who has long backed engagement with the nuclear-armed North, brokered the talks process between Trump and Kim, which led to their first landmark summit in Singapore last June.
But security allies Seoul and Washington have at times appeared to diverge on their approach to Pyongyang, and Seoul’s simultaneous announcement of the visit was noticeably different in its phrasing.
A statement issued by the South’s presidential office said the two leaders will discuss “establishing a lasting peace regime through the complete denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula” — rather than the North specifically.
The “denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula” was the term used in the joint statement signed by Kim and Trump after their first summit in Singapore.
But it is a phrase open to wide interpretation, and the process has become bogged down as the two sides disagree over what it means.
In the past, Pyongyang has argued it must include the removal of Washington’s nuclear umbrella over the South and the 28,500 US troops stationed in the country.
When US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visited the North’s traditional ally Russia this week, Moscow’s veteran foreign minister Sergei Lavrov told him: “The leadership of DPRK expects certain guarantees of security of their country reciprocated by denuclearisation, and that denuclearisation should be expanded over the whole of the Korean Peninsula.”
The White House said Trump’s trip to South Korea would combine with his visit to nearby Japan, where he will attend a G20 summit in Osaka on June 28-29.
The Hanoi summit between Trump and Kim broke up after the pair failed to agree on what Pyongyang would be willing to give up in exchange for relief from sanctions imposed over its nuclear and missile programmes.
Since then, Moon has tried to salvage diplomacy between the two mercurial leaders and flew to Washington last month for a brief meeting with Trump.
His attempts have so far proved futile, with Pyongyang raising the pressure earlier this month week by launching short-range missiles in its first such test since November 2017.
North Korea has repeatedly warned that it could take a different approach if Washington did not change its stance on sanctions by the end of this year.
In a move that could further stoke tensions, the US announced the seizure of a North Korean cargo ship for violating international sanctions, which was slammed by Pyongyang as an “unlawful and outrageous act”.