South Korea said Monday it hopes the diplomatic momentum created by the latest meeting between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un would help revive inter-Korean dialogue and engagement that stopped amid a hard impasse in nuclear negotiations between Washington and Pyongyang.
Lee Sang-min, a spokesman of South Korea’s Unification Ministry, which deals with affairs with the North, said the Trump-Kim meeting could breathe new life into the nuclear negotiations and benefit Seoul’s efforts to keep alive momentum for talks and cooperation with Pyongyang.
North Korea significantly reduced diplomatic activity and exchanges with the South following the summit between Trump and Kim in February that failed over disagreements in exchanging sanctions relief and disarmament. The North conducted tests of short-range missiles that could potentially threaten the South and demanded that Seoul break away from Washington and resume inter-Korean economic projects held back by U.S.-led sanctions against the North.
“Inter-Korean relations have been at a lull since the Hanoi summit between the leaders of the United States and North Korea, but the (Seoul) government has continuously worked to maintain a momentum for dialogue and cooperation between the South and North,” Lee said.
“Since it’s expected that the nuclear negotiations between Washington and Pyongyang would bounce back, the government will … strengthen its efforts to create a virtuous cycle between inter-Korean relations, denuclearization and North Korea-U.S. relations,” he said.
The impromptu get-together at the inter-Korean border, where an armistice was signed 66 years ago to stop the fighting of a war that killed or injured millions, was Trump and Kim’s third overall meeting and first since the breakdown in Hanoi.
Pyongyang’s official Korean Central News Agency said Trump and Kim during their meeting agreed to restart nuclear negotiations and expressed great satisfaction over the result of their talks. The agency said Kim exchanged “warm greetings” with South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who accompanied Trump to the border but did not participate in the meeting between the U.S. and North Korean leaders at the South Korean side of the Panmunjom truce village.
South Korea’s presidential office has refused to comment on whether Seoul had a role in setting up the meeting between Trump and Kim at the Korean border.
Moon held three summits with Kim last year and played a pivotal role in brokering the first meeting between Trump and Kim last June in Singapore, where they issued a statement calling for a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula without describing how or when it would occur.
The lack of substance and fruitless working-level discussions set up the failure in Hanoi, which the Americans blamed on what they said were excessive North Korean demands for sanctions relief in exchange for a partial surrender of the North’s nuclear capabilities limited to an aging nuclear facility in Yongbyon.
The latest Trump-Kim summit may have created a momentum for further diplomacy, including working-level talks aimed at hammering out the terms of a mutually acceptable deal, but experts say it remains unclear whether the negotiations would successfully address the fundamental differences between Washington and Pyongyang that were exposed in Hanoi.
The negotiations are unlikely to result in substantial concessions on weapons by North Korea or sanctions by the United States, said Alison Evans, an analyst at IHS Markit.
“If North Korea agrees to extend its self-imposed moratorium on intercontinental ballistic missile testing to other missiles, such as the new short-range missile tested in May, the United States is likely to support South Korean efforts to expand social and economic exchange, or even offer some humanitarian support following poor harvests in North Korea,” Evans said in a report.