May 20, 2018 / 6:30 AM / 3 months ago

South Korea, U.S. to work closely on summit after Pyongyang's about-face

SEOUL (Reuters) - South Korean President Moon Jae-in and U.S. President Donald Trump held discussions on Sunday to ensure that the North Korea-U.S. summit remains on track after North Korea threatened to pull out of the high-level talks.

FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump and South Korea's President Moon Jae-in shake hands during a joint press conference at the presidential Blue House in Seoul, South Korea, November 7, 2017. REUTERS/Jung Yeon-Je/Pool

Moon and Trump spoke over the phone for about 20 minutes, and exchanged their views on North Korea’s recent reactions, South Korea’s presidential office said without elaborating.

“The two leaders will work closely and unwaveringly for the successful hosting of the North Korea- U.S. summit set on June 12, including the upcoming South Korea-U.S. summit,” the presidential official said.

Moon and Trump are set to meet on Tuesday in Washington before North Korean leader Kim Jong Un meets with Trump on June 12 in Singapore.

The White House said Trump and Moon discussed recent developments in North Korea and continued “their close coordination ahead of President Trump’s June 12 meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.”

Although a historic inter-Korean summit in late April raised hopes of reconciliation, North Korea showed a dramatic change in tone in recent days.

North Korea’s chief negotiator Ri Son Gwon said on Thursday it would not hold talks with South Korea unless their demands were met, taking issue with the U.S.-South Korean air combat drills known as Max Thunder. It came a day after it threatened to pull out of the summit with the United States.

Further dampening the mood, a spokesman for North Korea’s Red Cross Society demanded on Saturday that South Korea’s government should send North Korean female restaurant workers back to their home “without delay” to show the will to improve the inter-Korean ties, the North’s Korea Central News agency said.

A dozen North Korean restaurant workers came to South Korea in 2016 from China, and North Korea had urged to send them back claiming they were abducted by the South, even though the South has said the 12 workers decided to defect of their own free will.

Lee Dong-bok, a researcher at New Asia Research Institution, said part of the reason for the North’s demands of the repatriation is to divide South Korea’s public opinion over the 12 workers.

“It is also to pressure the Moon government to agree to its demand so that South Korea can keep up the momentum for the North Korea-U.S. summit meeting,” Lee said.

Reporting by Jeongmin Kim; Additional reporting by Christine Kim; Writing by Jane Chung; Editing by Jacqueline Wong and Andrea Ricci

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