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Trump, Moon try to keep N Korea summit on track amid doubts

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

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WASHINGTON, DC, USA (AP) — President Donald Trump laboured with South Korea's Moon Jae-in yesterday to keep the highly anticipated US summit with North Korea on track, after Trump abruptly cast doubt that the June 12 meeting would come off.

Setting the stakes sky high, Moon said, “the fate and the future of the Korean Peninsula hinge” on the meeting.

The summit, planned for Singapore, offers a historic chance for peace on the peninsula. But it also raises the risk of an epic diplomatic failure that would allow the North to revive and advance its nuclear weapons programme.

Trump's new-found hesitation appeared to reflect recent setbacks in efforts to bring about reconciliation between the two Koreas, as well as concern whether the self-proclaimed deal-maker can deliver a nuclear accord with the North's Kim Jong-Un.

In an extraordinary public airing of growing uncertainty, Trump said “there's a very substantial chance” the meeting won't happen as scheduled.

Seated in the Oval Office with Moon, Trump said Kim had not met unspecified “conditions” for the summit. However, the president also said he believed Kim was “serious” about negotiations, and Moon expressed “every confidence” in Trump's ability to hold the summit and bring about peace.

“I have no doubt that you will be able to ... accomplish a historic feat that no one had been able to achieve in the decades past,” Moon said.

US officials said preparations for the summit were still underway despite recent pessimism — and privately suggested there would be additional public manoeuvring as both sides seek to maximise their leverage. Both parties to the talks are invested in holding the meeting, with Kim seeing an opportunity for international legitimacy and Trump the prospect of securing Korean stability — and perhaps a Nobel Peace Prize.

“This could be something that comes right to the end and doesn't happen,” said Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. But he added that as of now, “we're driving on”. South Korea's national security adviser put the chance of the summit taking place at 99.9 per cent.

Trump suggested that it could be delayed rather than cancelled: “It may not work out for June 12, but there is a good chance that we'll have the meeting.”

He did not detail the conditions he had laid out for Kim but said if they aren't met, “we won't have the meeting”. Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said Trump was referring to a commitment to seriously discuss denuclearisation.

Scepticism about the North's intentions have mounted in recent weeks after Kim's Government pulled out of planned peace talks with the South last week, objecting to long-scheduled joint military exercises between US and South Korean forces. The North also threatened to abandon the planned Trump-Kim meeting over US insistence on rapidly denuclearising the peninsula, issuing a harshly worded statement that the White House dismissed as a negotiating ploy.

Moon sought to project optimism after his meeting with Trump. His spokesman, Yoon Young-chan, told reporters that the two leaders agreed to do their best to ensure the meeting happens on June 12. Yoon said Moon told Trump that the North Korean leader was strongly committed to the meeting and the leaders agreed that any assistance to North Korea would come after complete denuclearisation. High-level talks between the North and South would likely happen after June 25.

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