April 1, 2019 / 8:42 AM / 5 months ago

Moon hopes North Korea responds positively to U.S.-S.Korea efforts

SEOUL (Reuters) - South Korean President Moon Jae-in said on Monday he hopes North Korea responds positively when he meets U.S. President Donald Trump this month as part of efforts to restart denuclearization talks with the North.

FILE PHOTO - South Korean President Moon Jae-in visits the Angkor Wat temple, in Siem Reap province, Cambodia, March 16, 2019. REUTERS/Samrang Pring

Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un failed to make any agreement at their summit in Hanoi in February, leaving Moon with little room to maneuver and exacerbating divisions within his government over how to break the impasse.

Speaking to his cabinet, Moon said he would use the April 11 summit in Washington to discuss restarting U.S.-North Korea talks, advancing a peace process and creating a “virtuous cycle” of improving relations with Pyongyang.

“I hope North Korea will respond positively to the efforts of Seoul and Washington,” he said.

The summit in Vietnam’s capital was cut short after Trump and Kim failed to reach a deal on the extent of economic sanctions relief for North Korea in exchange for its steps to give up its nuclear program.

Though there have been no signs of any return to U.S.-North Korea talks, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said: “I would hope in the coming months our two leaders will be back together ... in a way that we can achieve a substantive first step or a substantive big step along the path to denuclearization.”

Pompeo added, however, that it is “hard to know what the timing will be,” according to a newly released State Department transcript of an interview on Friday with Pennsylvania radio station WHP, when asked how long the process would take.

There was criticism in Washington that Seoul might have over-sold Kim’s denuclearization commitment and gone too far in pushing for sanctions relief, while Moon’s advisers have said the United States cannot stick to an “all or nothing” approach when trying to strike a deal over North Korea’s nuclear weapons program.

But Moon said the allies are “very much on the same page when it comes to our shared objective of achieving complete denuclearization and establishing a permanent peace regime on the Korean peninsula”.

He criticized unnamed skeptics who he said had tried to “drive a wedge” between Seoul and Washington and “reverse the tide of peace”.

“This is in no way helpful to our national interest or the future of the Korean peninsula,” Moon said. “Such attempts can be labeled truly irresponsible, especially when we recall the state of crisis we endured before dialogue was launched.”

The failure of the Hanoi summit created “temporary difficulties” but “it is becoming clear that neither the two Koreas nor the United States wants to go back to the past,” he said.

North Korea for years pursued nuclear and missile programs in defiance of U.N. Security Council resolutions. North Korea and the United States engaged in increasingly bellicose rhetoric until relations warmed last year, leading to a first summit in Singapore in June.

An official with South Korea’s presidential Blue House said leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) were considering whether to invite Kim to a summit in the South Korean port city of Busan in November.

In Washington on Friday, South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha met U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and told reporters she had agreed to keep pushing North Korea to make concrete concessions on its nuclear arsenal.

“What’s most important at this stage after the Hanoi summit is to restart negotiations between North Korea and the United States,” she said.

Moon said he would work with Trump to overcome obstacles and find new paths toward peace.

“If we work hard, we can pull it off,” he said. “Such positive thinking will lead us to a positive result.”

Reporting by Josh Smith. Additional reporting by Hyonhee Shin in Seoul and Matt Spetalnick in Washington; Editing by Nick Macfie and Marguerita Choy

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