The leaders of the two Koreas, and related officials, at the conference table in Panmunjom, during their surprise summit on Saturday. Photo: The Blue House
The leaders of the two Koreas, and related officials, at the conference table in Panmunjom, during their surprise summit on Saturday. Photo: The Blue House

After his surprise summit on Saturday with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, South Korean President Moon Jae-in told a news conference that Kim had reaffirmed his commitment to the denuclearization of the peninsula, and that both Koreas hoped that a North Korea-US summit will take place.

“We agreed that the June 12 summit must be carried out successfully,” Moon said, referring to the on-again, off-again summit set to be held between Kim and US President Donald Trump in Singapore. Our latest summit was to eradicate any difficulties and to hold a successful North Korea-US summit.”

The press conference, held at the presidential Blue House in Seoul, followed the surprise, previously unannounced summit held between Moon and Kim at the North Korean side of the truce village of Panmunjom in the Demilitarized Zone on Saturday.

The Kim-Moon summit looks like an adroit move by the two Koreas, putting Trump – who on Thursday had stated in an official letter that he was calling off the June 12 Singapore summit he had planned to hold with North Korea – on the back foot.

Moon revealed that the Panmunjom meeting had taken place at the request of Kim, two days prior.

That revelation signals that Kim keenly wants the US summit, and that Moon is happy to play the role of an intermediary between Pyongyang and Washington. Moon also said that if the North Korea-US summit takes place, a trilateral summit of the two Koreas and the US could also take place.

Experts are divided over why Kim has unleashed such a strong diplomatic charm offensive. Some believe he is confident that, with his nuclear program complete and his strategic missile program on the cusp of completion, he is in a strong position to bargain.

Others believe that he is under heavy pressure from sanctions, with foreign-exchange reserves likely to evaporate by the end of the year, and/or he is spooked by the mercurial Trump administration, with its bluster and military threats.

Moon urges parties to communicate

Moon said the results of Saturday’s summit had been communicated to the United States. There has been no response yet to Saturday’s developments in Korea from official US channels.

However, separately on Saturday, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders revealed that a team of US officials was being dispatched to Singapore for summit preparations. In an apparent reference to this move, Moon said US and North Korean working-level officials would be discussing the agenda of the summit.

US officials had said, after Trump’s announcement that the summit was off, that North Korean officials had not been responding to their communications. Trump himself cited hostile messaging that had appeared in North Korean state media.

But the US president, after his surprise press announcement on Thursday that he was calling off the summit, said on Friday that he was still open to the idea of meeting Kim. “We are having very productive talks with North Korea about reinstating the Summit,” he tweeted.

Moon suggested that “it is necessary for the two sides to engage in direct talks to eliminate misunderstandings and have sufficient preliminary, working level negotiations concerning the agenda.” Kim agreed, Moon said.

Kim “made clear once again his intentions to completely denuclearize the Korean Peninsula,” Moon said. “What is uncertain for him is not his intentions for denuclearization, but Washington’s stance of hostile relations with North Korea and whether Washington can secure and guarantee the regime.”

Summits to be regularized?

Inter-Korean summits – only four of which have taken place thus far – could become regular events, Moon suggested. The summit on Saturday “was arranged in a speedy manner without sticking to formalities as the occasion demanded and [we] agreed to communicate to sit together to have candid discussions whenever necessary.”

In an apparent reference to the unprecedented flurry of cross-border communications that has been taking place since the beginning of this year, Moon said, “We are changing the course of history.” He added, “This is only a start. However, it is not anything that has been witnessed in the past.”

He also said that high-level inter-Korean talks would take place on June 1. Military talks and talks on meetings of divided families are also scheduled.

But even though he was confident of Kim’s intentions, Moon admitted that difficulties likely lie ahead. “The road to complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and peace will never be easy,” he said.