Kim Jong Un and Donald Trump on June 12, 2018 at the Capella Hotel on Sentosa island in Singapore. Photo: AFP/KCNA VIA KNS
Kim Jong Un and Donald Trump on June 12, 2018 at the Capella Hotel on Sentosa island in Singapore. Photo: AFP/KCNA VIA KNS

Following a recent visit to Pyongyang by South Korean envoys, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un revealed that he seeks another summit with US President Donald Trump, which the White House has agreed to.

The development came after Kim sent a personal letter to Trump – his second such missive.

“It was a very warm, very positive letter,” White House Spokesperson Sarah Sanders said at a Monday press briefing, as reported by Reuters. “The primary purpose of the letter was to request and look to schedule another meeting with the president, which we are open to and are already in the process of coordinating that.”

The summit – for which no place or date has yet been set – comes at a critical time.

Critical relations, and South Korean brokering

Pyongyang and Washington are currently deeply divided over the former’s denuclearization. While the two agreed on the key issues of improving relations and denuclearizing North Korea during their summit in Singapore in June, their post-summit declaration contained no details or timelines as to how it would be achieved.

As a result, the euphoria over the summit quickly evaporated as no mutually agreed-upon denuclearization process has yet begun. While the American side seeks a full list of nuclear assets and facilities, the North Korean side is seeking a peace treaty to replace the armistice that ended the 1950-53 Korean War.

It seems likely that South Korean envoys played a role in the latest breakthrough. After returning from a day of meetings with Kim and his key aide, Kim Yong Chol, a former commander of espionage units, they revealed that they had a message from Kim to Trump, but did not clarify in what format the message was.

Their key mission had been to set the timing and dates for an inter-Korean summit, which will be the third between Kim and South Korean President Moon Jae-in, since their first meeting in April at the DMZ village of Panmunjom.

That summit will take place next week, from Sept 18-20, in Pyongyang. There, Moon Jae-in’s administration in Seoul has made clear that Moon himself seeks to play the role of a trusted party, mediating between the North Korean and US sides. Moon is then expected to meet Trump and brief him on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly at the end of this month.

Inter-Korean relations are also proceeding.

This Friday, the two Koreas plan to open a joint liaison office for both governments in the North Korean city of Kaesong, directly north of Seoul and just north of the Demilitarized Zone. It will be the first such government-to-government office established between the two capitals, which have no diplomatic relations, and which have previously relied heavily upon cumbersome and difficult-to-coordinate meetings at the truce village of Panmunjom.

Meanwhile, the recent maneuvers suggest that a pattern is emerging in North Korean-South Korean-US relations, with the South Koreans playing the role of brokers.

We have seen this before…

In the run-up to the historic June summit between Kim and Trump in Singapore, Trump abruptly canceled the planned meet on May 24, citing vitriolic statements in North Korean state media as the reason for his displeasure.

In response, an apparently shaken Kim held a surprise summit with Moon – their second – on May 26, where Kim made clear his good will and hopes for a meeting with Trump.

Partly thanks to the South Korean intermediary role, Washington took note of Pyongyang’s conciliatory stance, and the Singapore summit was put back on track. The historic meeting – the first ever between North Korean and US heads of state – took place on June 12 in Singapore.

But post-summit, and despite the excellent relations apparently struck up between Kim and Trump, relations deteriorated as denuclearization went nowhere. On Aug. 24, Trump canceled Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s planned trip to Pyongyang, citing lack of progress on denuclearization.

Following that development, the South Korean envoys, led by National Security Adviser Chung Eui-yong, visited Pyongyang for discussions with Kim.

Upon their return, the envoys said that Kim had praised Trump – which generated a positive tweet from the latter. The flattery of the American leader, together with the positive letter – the contents of which have not been revealed – looks to have done the trick, with the result that a second North Korea-US summit appears to have got the go ahead.

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