TOKYO — President Trump has a “very friendly view” of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and will make his wishes “come true” if he gives up his nuclear weapons, according to South Korean President Moon Jae-in, although Moon also cautions that sanctions will remain in place in the meantime.
In remarks released Monday, Moon expressed optimism that Kim would visit Seoul soon, marking a first for a North Korean leader and sending the world a message of Kim’s commitment to denuclearize.
After meeting with Trump at the Group of 20 summit in Buenos Aires, Moon said the U.S. president had given him a message to deliver to Kim.
“The message was that President Trump has a very friendly view of Chairman Kim and that he likes him, and so he wishes Chairman Kim would implement the rest of their agreement and that he would make what Chairman Kim wants come true,” Moon told reporters on his presidential plane over the weekend.
But Trump and Moon also agreed on the need to maintain existing sanctions against North Korea until it fully denuclearizes, presidential spokesman Yoon Young-chan said.
That statement appears to leave talks at the impasse where they have been stuck for weeks, with North Korea demanding sanctions relief before it makes any further concessions and rejecting a U.S. demand to hand over a list of its nuclear weapons and missile facilities.
But Moon said the North is actually asking for “corresponding measures” that are not necessarily reduction or removal of sanctions.
He suggested that the measures might include delaying or reducing U.S.-South Korean military exercises; humanitarian assistance; and sports and cultural exchanges. A formal declaration of an end to the 1950-53 Korean War “can also be considered,” he said.
The war concluded with an armistice rather than a formal peace treaty, and North Korea has been asking for an end-of-war declaration to cease hostile relations with the United States. But Washington is wary of signing an agreement that might be used to undermine the status of the U.S. military in South Korea.
Van Jackson, a former Pentagon official who now teaches at Victoria University in New Zealand, said he feared Trump might be pressed into declaring sanctions relief that he will not be able to implement to North Korea’s satisfaction, “setting up the U.S. to be the one who failed to live up to its obligations.”
“Most sanctions aren’t under Trump’s control, and the Democratic House won’t work with Trump to relieve sanctions,” he said. “But that probably won't stop him from making verbal declarations he can’t follow through on.”
Jackson said it would be unwise to rush to a summit “without first getting working-level progress toward something resembling denuclearization.”
Over the weekend, Trump told reporters he hoped to hold a second summit with Kim early next year, perhaps in January or February, and that three sites are under consideration.
“We’re getting along very well. We have a good relationship,” he said. Asked whether he might consider inviting Kim to the United States, he replied: “At some point, yeah.”
White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said Moon and Trump “reaffirmed their commitment to achieve the final, fully verified denuclearization” of North Korea. She said they also agreed on the necessity of “maintaining vigorous enforcement of existing sanctions to ensure North Korea understands that denuclearization is the only path.”
Moon said Kim could visit Seoul for a summit before he meets again with Trump. South Korea’s Unification Ministry said Monday it still hopes such a visit can be arranged before the end of the year.
“I believe Kim’s Seoul visit itself will be a peaceful message to the world, and also a message of his commitment to denuclearization, commitment to the development of inter-Korean relations,” Moon said.
Moon said that if the North Korean leader comes to Seoul, “all the people of South Korea will welcome Kim with open arms.”
But conservatives are sure to take issue with that statement.
In an editorial, the right-leaning Dong-A Ilbo newspaper warned that a rushed visit by Kim to Seoul would produce only “rose-tinted hugs” that do not lead to substantial progress in denuclearization. The Chosun Ilbo newspaper warned of a reprise of the “Singapore fiasco” if Trump and Kim meet for a second time without making progress on nuclear negotiations.
Min Joo Kim in Seoul contributed to this report.