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On Trump-Moon Agenda: What to Do About threat posed by North Korea President Kim Jong Un

Moon, a liberal, took office early last month, succeeding the impeached Park Geun-hye, known for her tough stance toward North Korea

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South Korean President Moon Jae-in
South Korean President Moon Jae-in and his wife, Kim Jung-sook, wave before leaving for the United States at the Seoul military airport in Seongnam, South Korea, June 28, 2017. Moon left for the United States for a summit meeting with his U.S. counterpart. VOA
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  • For the Trump-Moon meeting, “building a rapport” will be as important as anything else, considering how closely they will be working together, the senior U.S. official told reporters at a background briefing
  • The U.S. president had hoped that Chinese President Xi Jinping would quickly bring into line North Korean leader Kim Jong Un
  • Moon also has put the brakes on his predecessor’s move to quickly deploy the U.S. Theater High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) anti-ballistic missile system in South Korea

USA, June 29, 2017: U.S. President Donald Trump on Thursday evening hosts South Korean President Moon Jae-in for cocktails and dinner, a prelude to talks the next day on the “very urgent threat posed by North Korea,” according to a senior White House official.

It’ll be the first time the two leaders meet.

Moon, a liberal, took office early last month, succeeding the impeached Park Geun-hye, known for her tough stance toward North Korea.

ALSO READ: Korea is Emerging as an Important Economic Partner for India

“It’s going to be a meeting with a lot of uncertainty about whether the two presidents can agree on a common policy toward North Korea in terms of the specific tactics,” said Gary Samore, research executive director at Harvard’s Belfer Center.

Tens of thousands of men and women pump their fists in the air
Tens of thousands of men and women pump their fists in the air and chant as they carry placards with anti-american propaganda slogans at Pyongyang’s central Kim Il Sung Square on Sunday, June 25, 2017, in Pyongyang North Korea, to mark what North Korea calls “the day of struggle against US imperialism” – the anniversary of the start of the Korean War. (AP Photo/Jon Chol Jin)

For the Trump-Moon meeting, “building a rapport” will be as important as anything else, considering how closely they will be working together, the senior U.S. official told reporters at a background briefing.

“My biggest concern is that President Moon will want to dive into tough policy challenges, rather than focusing on building a rapport with President Trump,” said Mansfield Foundation President Frank Januzzi.

Moon and North Korea

“I believe Moon is coming to Washington with a very specific proposal — if (North Korean leader) Kim Jong Un agrees to pause nuclear and missile testing, that should open the door to a diplomatic engagement, which would try to create a negotiation for eventual nuclear disarmament,” Samore, a non-proliferation and arms control official in the Clinton and Obama administrations, told VOA. “But I don’t know that Trump is going to be in a position to accept that proposal.”

Taro O, adjunct fellow at Pacific Forum CSIS, concurred.

“I don’t think Moon’s messages and various protests in South Korea help to set a positive tone for the summit,” O said.

But O expressed hope the long-standing alliance “would have a soothing effect.”

U.S. officials are downplaying any potential disagreement.

“We’re comfortable with where the two governments are right now,” the senior U.S. official said.

Increasing pressure

The Trump administration desires to substantially increase pressure on Pyongyang “to change its calculus in order to have substantive talks with us when they reduce the threat,” the official said.

Moon and Trump, he added, both want North Korea’s nuclear weapons and ballistic missile development programs completely dismantled.

“Moon might want to adopt an approach that asks Trump for dealmaking advice, even as he expresses the clear will of the South Korean people that dialogue be a key part of any diplomatic strategy to reduce the threats posed by North Korea,” Januzzi, a former East Asia policy director for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told VOA.

The U.S. president had hoped that Chinese President Xi Jinping would quickly bring into line North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. But Trump acknowledged recently that Beijing’s influence has failed to dissuade Pyongyang from its provocative course.

“We very much want to see China do more,” the U.S. official said.

“We are adding pressure and have really only begun to do so,” the official added, rejecting criticism that pressure has not worked.

FILE - Protesters attend an anti-THAAD protest in Seongju, South Korea. ​THAAD
FILE – Protesters attend an anti-THAAD protest in Seongju, South Korea. VOA

THAAD

Moon also has put the brakes on his predecessor’s move to quickly deploy the U.S. Theater High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) anti-ballistic missile system in South Korea.

China strongly objected to the presence of THAAD on its neighbor’s territory.

“It is not unreasonable for the U.S. to be perplexed when South Korea appears to disregard a real missile threat from North Korea, succumb to China’s bullying, and portrays THAAD as a U.S. infringement of South Korean sovereignty,” O, a retired U.S. Air Force officer who worked at the Pentagon and intelligence agencies on Korean security issues, told VOA.

Administration officials discount the differences.

THAAD will be “a routine point of housekeeping” in the Trump-Moon talks but it is not being treated as a major issue, the senior White House official said.

Seoul diverging on security matters “could marginalize South Korea as a key player in dealing with North Korea’s nuclear weapons program, especially when Pyongyang is getting closer to developing a nuclear-tipped ICBM that can strike the U.S.,” O said.

Trade issues

There also are trade disagreements between Seoul and Washington, but “it’ll be a friendly, frank discussion,” the senior U.S. official predicted.

Trump has repeatedly termed the U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement (KORUS) “horrible.” In April he threatened to terminate the decade-old pact because “we’re getting destroyed in Korea.”

The senior White House official diplomatically acknowledged “there are aspects of the trade relationship that are not in balance.”

Particular irritants: The lack of sales of American-made cars in Seoul and Chinese steel coming into the United States via South Korea.

Moon should have in mind Trump’s job creation agenda and inform him “about the great contributions that Korean companies are making to the U.S. economy, employing hundreds of thousands of Americans, both directly and indirectly,” Januzzi suggested. (VOA)

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Korean Soldiers Inspect The Demilitarized Border

The three sides have controlled the area since the end of the Korean War in 1953

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Korea
North Korean army soldiers are greeted by South Korean army soldiers, wearing helmets, as they cross the Military Demarcation Line inside the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) to inspect the dismantled South Korean guard post in Cheorwon. VOA

Soldiers from North and South Korea criss-crossed their heavily-fortified border Wednesday to inspect efforts to remove front-line guard posts from their respective sides.

Inspection teams from South Korea were greeted by North Korean soldiers when they stepped into the Demilitarized Zone early Wednesday, both sides exchanging handshakes and cigarettes before the South Koreans crossed the border to begin their inspections.

The South Koreans visited 11 North Korean guard posts to make sure they had either been dismantled or disarmed, and if any underground structures were left undestroyed. North Korean inspection teams crossed the border hours later to perform similar inspections on 11 South Korean border posts.

Korea
A train transporting dozens of South Korean officials runs on the rails which leads to North Korea, inside the demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas in Paju, South Korea. VOA

Despite Wednesday’s action, about 200 manned guard posts still remain along the DMZ.

The border is the world’s most heavily fortified, filled with millions of landmines and marked by long lines of barbed wire fences.

The dismantling of the guard posts in the DMZ was part of a comprehensive military agreement reached between South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un during their third summit in September at Pyongyang.

Korea
South Korean President Moon Jae-in makes a toast with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un during a luncheon at Samjiyon Guesthouse in Ryanggang province, North Korea. VOA

The agreement, which is aimed at reducing military tensions on the Korean peninsula, included disarming the Joint Security Area – commonly referred to as the truce village of Panmunjon – including the removal of all landmines, guard posts, surveillance and other military equipment. They also agreed to reduce the number of personnel stationed at the JSA to just 35 unarmed guards, with the aim of reshaping it into a tourist attraction.

Also Read: Donald Trump Open to Meeting Kim Jong-un Again

The Joint Security Area, controlled by both Seoul and Pyongyang along with the U.S.-led United Nations Command, is the only spot within the 250-kilometer-long DMZ where troops from North and South Korea stand face-to-face. The three sides have controlled the area since the end of the Korean War in 1953, leaving North and South Korea in a technical state of war. (VOA)