Four months after Donald Trump walked away from the negotiating table in Hanoi, the U.S. president is closing in on a third summit with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un.
That’s according to South Korean President Moon Jae-In, who painted a hugely optimistic picture of the state of peace and denuclearization talks on the Korean peninsula in an interview Wednesday.
“There has already been considerable headway made in the peace process on the Korean Peninsula, and it is still making steady progress," he said in an interview with a number of news agencies. "The resumption of negotiations between North Korea and the United States will take it to the next level. I believe everything has now fallen into place for that to happen.”
Moon said that “behind-the-scenes talks” have been taking place between Washington and Pyongyang. “Both sides have been engaged in dialogue in regard to a third summit,” Moon said, though he didn’t mention when a meeting might take place.
Denuclearization talks have been stalled since the Hanoi Summit in February, when the two sides could not reach a deal. North Korea demanded complete sanctions relief before it dismantled its Yongbyon nuclear facility, while the U.S. wanted verifiable proof that Kim was serious about giving up his nuclear weapons.
Most analysts painted the Hanoi summit as a failure, but Moon sees it differently.
“I don't see it as a failure even though an agreement could not be reached,” Moon said, adding that it served as a way for both sides to “put everything they want on the negotiating table.”
The main sticking point between Washington and Pyongyang to date has been the question of what denuclearization actually looks like. The North sees it as dismantling its nuclear facilities, while Washington envisions North Korea giving up the nuclear weapons it already has.
On Wednesday, Moon outlined his view:
“If all of the nuclear facilities in the complex, including the plutonium reprocessing facilities and the uranium enrichment facilities, are completely demolished and verified, it would be possible to say that the denuclearization of North Korea has entered an irreversible stage,” he said.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Sunday the U.S. was ready to re-enter negotiations “at a moment’s notice” if the North was willing to discuss denuclearization. On Thursday, the U.S. special envoy to North Korea Stephen Biegun will travel to Seoul for meetings with South Korean officials,. Some experts believe he could use the trip to meet North Korean officials at a Korean border village discuss a possible third summit.
Though talks between the two sides have stalled, Trump and Kim have maintained a close personal relationship, with the pair recently exchanging letters.
“Well, it was a very nice letter, and it was actually a happy birthday letter if you want to know the truth, it was my birthday,” Trump told the Hill this week. “And he sent me a beautiful letter, happy birthday, which was nice. I sent him a thank you letter, yeah I then sent him a note.”
Speaking to reporters on Tuesday, Trump said “maybe there was” a mention of a third summit in Kim’s letter, adding: “But we, you know, at some point, we’ll do that. Getting along very well. He’s not doing nuclear testing.”
Last month, however, North Korea did test out “large-caliber long-range multiple rocket launchers and tactical guided weapons.” And despite Moon’s cheery outlook, there clearly remains a lot of hostility towards the U.S. over its continued imposition of sanctions.
On Wednesday, an unidentified North Korean foreign ministry spokesman called the U.S. decision to extend economic sanctions for another year a “manifestation of the most extreme hostile acts” designed to “bring us to our knees,” according to the North’s official KCNA news agency.
Cover: In this Feb. 28, 2019, file photo, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, left, and U.S. President Donald Trump take a walk after their first meeting at the Sofitel Legend Metropole Hanoi hotel in Hanoi. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File)