SEOUL, South Korea – Kim Jong Un reaffirmed his commitment to a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula and the suspension of all future long-range missile tests and said he had faith to continue working with increasingly embattled President Donald Trump, South Korean officials and the North’s official media said Thursday.
Kim also reportedly expressed frustration with outside skepticism about his nuclear disarmament intentions and demanded that his “goodwill measures” be met in kind.
The trove of Kim comments were filtered through his propaganda specialists in Pyongyang and the South Korean government, which is keen on keeping engagement alive, and they comes amid a growing standoff with the United States on how to proceed with diplomacy meant to settle a nuclear dispute that had many fearing war last year.
Only hours earlier, a South Korean delegation returned from talks with Kim where they set up a summit Sept. 18-20 in Pyongyang between Kim and South Korean President Moon Jae-in, their third meeting since April.
Each statement reportedly made by Kim will be parsed for clues about the future of the nuclear diplomacy. His reported commitment to a nuclear-free Korea, for instance, wasn’t new information – Kim has repeatedly declared similar intentions before – but it allows hopes to rise that negotiators can get back on track after the recriminations that followed Kim’s meeting in June with Trump in Singapore.
The impasse between North Korea and the United States, with neither side seemingly willing to make any substantive move, has generated widespread skepticism over Trump’s claims that Kim will really dismantle his nuclear weapons program.
“Chairman Kim Jong Un has made it clear several times that he is firmly committed to denuclearization, and he expressed frustration over skepticism in the international community over his commitment,” Chung Eui-yong, Moon’s national security adviser and the head of the South Korean delegation to Pyongyang, told reporters on Seoul on Thursday. “He said he’s pre-emptively taken steps necessary for denuclearization and wants to see these goodwill measures being met with goodwill measures. “
Chung reported Kim as saying that work to dismantle the only engine-test site in the country “means a complete suspension of future long-range ballistic missile tests.”
Kim also said an end-of-war declaration that Seoul and Pyongyang have been pushing Washington to sign off on wouldn’t weaken the U.S.-South Korean alliance or lead to the withdrawal of the 28,500 U.S. troops stationed in South Korea to prevent North Korean attack, according to Chung.
The summit later this month between Kim and Moon, the driving force behind the current diplomacy, will be a crucial indicator of whether larger nuclear negotiations with the United States will proceed.
Moon is seen as eager to keep the diplomacy alive in part so that he can advance his ambitious engagement plans with the North, which would need U.S. backing to succeed. The inter-Korean summit comes on the eve of a gathering of world leaders at the United Nations in New York at the end of September, but Seoul said Thursday that it was unlikely Kim would attend. Seoul has indicated an interest in Kim and Trump meeting in New York, and Trump, who is facing growing domestic turmoil, has hinted that another summit could happen.
While pushing ahead with summits and inter-Korean engagement, Seoul is trying to persuade Washington and Pyongyang to proceed with peace and denuclearization processes at the same time so they can overcome a growing dispute over the sequencing of the diplomacy.
Seoul and Pyongyang both want a declaration to formally end the 1950-53 Korean War. U.S. officials have insisted that a peace declaration, which many see as a precursor to the North eventually calling for the removal of all U.S. troops from the Korean Peninsula, cannot come before North Korea takes more concrete action toward abandoning its nuclear weapons. Such steps may include providing an account of the components of its nuclear program, allowing outside inspections and giving up a certain number of its nuclear weapons during the early stages of the negotiations.
The Korean War ended with an armistice, leaving the peninsula technically still at war. Moon has made an end-of-war declaration an important premise of his peace agenda with North Korea.
While an end-of-war declaration wouldn’t imply a legally binding peace treaty, experts say it could create political momentum that would make it easier for North Korea to steer the discussions toward a peace regime, diplomatic recognition, economic benefits and security concessions.
After their June summit in Singapore, Trump and Kim issued a vague statement about a nuclear-free peninsula without describing when and how it would occur. Post-summit nuclear negotiations between Washington and Pyongyang were rocky and quickly settled into a stalemate.
North Korea has accused the United States of making “unilateral and gangster-like” demands for denuclearization and holding back on the end-of-war declaration.
Trump called off a planned visit to North Korea by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo last month, citing insufficient progress in denuclearization.
The two past inter-Korean summits in April and May removed war fears and initiated a global diplomatic push that culminated with the meeting between Kim and Trump in June. But Moon faces tougher challenges heading into his third meeting with Kim, with the stalemate in nuclear negotiations between Pyongyang and Washington raising fundamental questions about Kim’s supposed willingness to abandon his nuclear weapons.