South Korea's Moon embraced by Kim in Pyongyang in bid to revive nuclear talks
September 18 at 3:44 AM
TOKYO â" South Korean President Moon Jae-in was embraced by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and greeted by cheering crowds in Pyongyang on Tuesday in a carefully choreographed display of friendship, as the two leaders began their third summit this year.
It is the first time since October 2007, and only the third time since the division of the peninsula, that a South Korean leader has visited the North Korean capital. Moon is attempting to unlock an impasse between Pyongyang and Washington over North Koreaâs nuclear and missile program, and has gambled his own reputation on Kimâs sincerity that he is willing to disarm.
Emerging from the plane with his wife, Kim Jung-sook, Moon was greeted on a red carpet on the tarmac by the North Korean leader and his wife, Ri Sol Ju.
The two men embraced three times, smiled warmly and chatt ed briefly, while their wives shook hands and talked. A military band played, and several hundred guests frantically cheered and waved the flags of North Korea and a unified Korean Peninsula, as well as flower bouquets.
The presidents then inspected a military guard and stood on a podium as goose-stepping troops marched past. Moon waved to and even shook hands with some members of the crowd, appearing genuinely moved by the reception â" even though it was being carefully staged by the most repressive regime on the planet.
Later Moon and Kim drove through the streets in separate cars past more cheering crowds chanting âunification, unification.â
The convoy then stopped in the middle of the street, Moon got out of his car and was presented with a bouquet. Then he and Kim went to an open-top car to travel the rest of the way together.
Moon stood at Kimâs side saluting the crowds and beaming broadly. Kimâs reaction to the cheering was rather more muted.
Previous South Korean president Roh Moo-hyun was given a similar open-top car parade when he visited in 2007, although he traveled with senior North Korean official Kim Yong Nam not then-leader Kim Jong Il.
Moonâs first summit with Kim in April unleashed a wave of optimism in South Korea about the prospects for peace across the divided peninsula, but the good feelings have waned as the scale of the task ahead has become more obvious. At the same time, Moonâs popularity has fallen sharply, albeit largely because of rising unemployment and soaring property prices.
The South Korean president appears to be gambling that he can revive the stalled nuclear talks and his popularity at the same time.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in, left, waves with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un from a car during a parade t hrough Pyongyang streets, North Korea, Tuesday, Sept. 18, 2018. (Pyongyang Press Corps Pool via AP)
âWhat I want to achieve is peace,â he said in a weekly meeting with his top aides Monday, ânot a tentative change which could be volatile dependent on the international situation but irreversible, permanent and unwavering peace, regardless of what might happen on the global arena.â
But many experts say they have seen little sign that Kim is genuinely willing to disarm. Its âconcessionsâ to date, including the closure of a nuclear test site, have been repeatedly praised by Seoul but have not been independently verified, nor are they irreversible, said Jonathan Pollack at the Brookings Institution.
Moon brought with him an entourage including the heads of some of South Koreaâs largest conglomerates, as well K-pop stars and even South Koreaâs national soccer coach, there to make a seemingly unlikely proposal that the two nations jointly bid to hold the 2034 World Cup.
[South Korea moves forward with outreach to Kim as U.S. track stumbles]
Business leaders are there to underline the potential economic rewards for North Korea should it denuclearize, although deals canât be made unless U.S.-led sanctions are lifted.
Moon will meet Kim on Tuesday and Wednesday, with two principal goals in mind. The first, according to Moonâs chief of staff, Im Jong-seok, is to ink âmeaningfulâ agreements to ease tensions across the worldâs most militarized border.
Those could include a deal to pull back some guard posts at the heavily mined front line, disarm an area of the border near the shared village of Panmunjom and reduce the chance of clashes along their shared maritime boundary.
Im said that the measures would âfundamentally remove the danger of armed clashes and ease fears of war,â but he warned that the details hadnât been agreed upon going into the summit.
More ambitious is Moonâ s attempt to unlock an impasse between Pyongyang and Washington over who should make the next move in their dialogue over peace and denuclearization.
The United States wants North Korea to take a meaningful step toward dismantling its nuclear weapons program, starting by declaring all its nuclear and missile facilities.
North Korea says it has already dismantled two nuclear and missile testing sites this year, and it wants the United States to declare the 1950-53 Korean War to be formally over, to reduce hostility and build mutual trust.
Moon said he would try to talk the issue over âcandidlyâ with Kim, âto seek common ground between the United Statesâ call for denuclearization measures and the Northâs demand for corresponding steps for security guarantees and an end of hostility.â
One proposal being widely discussed in Seoul is âdeclaration for declarationâ â" that a declaration by one side would be swiftly followed by a corresponding d eclaration from the other side, diplomats and officials said.
But Im, Moonâs chief of staff, was cautious, playing down what he called âexpectations for huge accomplishmentsâ on denuclearization at the summit.
âThis is the part we are very cautious about, one we find very difficult and hard to have any optimistic outlook about,â he told reporters, explaining that progress depended on the two leadersâ conversations and could not be agreed upon in advance by junior officials.
âDepending on how candidly the two leaders talk through the issue, whether any concrete agreement on denuclearization can be reached, and if that can make it to a joint statement, if not a statement, whether a verbal agreement can be reached and be announced, all these questions are blank ones for us at the moment,â he said.
The Korean War ended with an armistice rather than a peace deal.
An end-of-war declaration would be only one step toward a more formal pe ace treaty, but some members of the Trump administration are concerned that it could be used to undermine the justification for the presence of U.S. military bases in South Korea.
The summit will continue Wednesday morning, after which â" if it goes well â" the two leaders will hold a joint news conference that will be beamed live to Seoul.
If the talks are successful, they could pave the way for a second summit between Kim and President Trump later this year, officials and diplomats say.
âIf the dialogue between the U.S. and North Korea is resumed because of my visit to North Korea, that is meaningful in itself,â Moon was quoted as saying by spokesman Yoon Young-chan, just before leaving Tuesday.
But Brookingâs Pollack said that sort of progress might be illusory. While Trump believes there is a deal to be had with Kim, most people in his administration believe otherwise, he said.
âMoonâs challenge is get something from Kim that he ca n then sell to Trump. To judge from Trumpâs endless flattery of Kim, this shouldnât be too hard,â he said. âThe question is whether this game can persist indefinitely without definitive evidence of North Korean actions (as opposed to words) of what Kim has supposedly agreed to.â
Min Joo Kim reported from Seoul.
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