Trump and Moon to meet in Washington amid North Korea impasse

United States President Donald Trump and his South Korean counterpart, Moon Jae-in, are set to meet for a summit next month amid uncertainty over the future of nuclear negotiations with North Korea.

Moon and Trump are scheduled to hold talks April 11 in Washington to “discuss the latest developments regarding the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea) as well as bilateral matters,” White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said in a statement.

Their face-to-face will take place a little more than a month after Trump held his second summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi. The talks fell apart over disagreements on exchanging sanctions relief for steps toward the dismantling of North Korea’s nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs. Though the summit ended abruptly, the White House has maintained the leaders left on good terms.

“There’s obviously a long ways to go. There’s more work to do. Chairman Kim hasn’t yet demonstrated that he is prepared to fulfill the commitment that he made. But I continue to believe that hard work and diplomatic effort may well get us there,” US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Thursday.

Senior officials from Pyongyang, however, have been less optimistic. Choe Son Hui, one of North Korea’s top diplomats, told reporters on a recent trip to Russia that her country was considering suspending talks.

A South Korean government official said Trump proposed the meeting with Moon in a call to him made from Air Force One after leaving Hanoi. Trump “proposed to discuss the issues related to North Korea over lunch. President Moon gladly accepted his invitation,” the official told reporters during a background briefing Friday.

The meeting will give both leaders an opportunity to reconsider their game plan on North Korea.

Moon has essentially positioned himself as the middle man between Washington and Pyongyang since the two countries began exploring diplomatic negotiations last year.

Duyeon Kim, an expert on Korean affairs at the Center for a New American Security, said it was “only natural” that Moon would make a move ” to bring Trump and Kim together again to prevent a protracted pause in negotiations.”

“This summit is important because Hanoi didn’t just reaffirm the large gap between Washington and Pyongyang, but (the fact) that the allies are also still fundamentally apart on how to achieve denuclearization,” said Duyeon Kim.

Moon has long been a proponent of engagement with North Korea as a means of achieving peace.

If Moon can secure Trump’s help in jump-starting inter-Korean projects that could be a potential win for the South Korean President, who has seen his popularity tumble in recent months as the economy has sputtered.

South Korean polling agency Realmeter found that Moon had an approval rating of 46.3% in a survey released Thursday, down from a high of 84.1% after his May 2017 election.

“(Moon’s) legacy is at stake if there is no progress on the nuclear issue. He needs sanctions lifted to resume inter-Korean economic projects and work towards regional economic cooperation,” said Duyeon Kim.

Analysts said Moon seeks to promote inter-Korean projects both to boost his country’s economy and to foster inter-Korean peace through economic integration. However, the sanctions levied on North Korea currently prevent Seoul from engaging in any joint ventures with Pyongyang.

The South Korean official who briefed reporters Friday said the “government hopes to have another inter-Korean summit sometime soon.”

Kim Hyun-chong, a national security aide to Moon, is expected to visit Washington in the coming days to prepare for the meeting.

“This summit is going to be about setting the direction and taking measures to enable top-down style diplomacy in dealing with North Korean issues,” the official said.