South Korean President Moon Jae-in says he hopes U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un will hold another summit before the U.S. presidential election in November.
A South Korean official said Wednesday Moon recently relayed the request to the White House. The U.S. side "understands" Moon's position and is "working on it, as far as I know," the South Korean official added.
U.S. officials have not publicly responded to Moon’s comments, which were initially expressed in a conversation Tuesday between the South Korean president and European Union officials.
Steve Biegun, the deputy U.S. secretary of state, said earlier this week another Trump-Kim summit was unlikely before November, in part because of coronavirus concerns.
“In the time remaining and with the wet blanket COVID-19 has put over the entire world, it’s hard to envision circumstances where we could do an in-person international summit,” Biegun said during an online forum organized by the German Marshall Fund research organization.
But Biegun, the lead U.S. negotiator on North Korea, said Washington remains open to engagement with Pyongyang, adding that the U.S. goal continues to be the "final and complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula."
Biegun is planning to visit South Korea sometime in July, according to South Korean media reports.
It has been just over a year since Trump and Kim’s last meeting — a hastily organized, brief encounter at the demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas.
North Korea has since walked away from the talks, conducted frequent missile tests, and lobbed more threats and insults, mainly at its neighbors in South Korea.
Despite the tensions, Trump has frequently insisted his relationship with Kim remains strong, sometimes even hinting he is open to another summit. But with the U.S. election just over four months away and Trump trailing in opinion polls, analysts say North Korea may not be his top priority.
It’s also not clear whether North Korea would agree to hold another summit. Officials in Pyongyang have repeatedly warned it will take more than good Trump-Kim relations to drive progress in the nuclear talks.
North Korea is angry at the U.S. refusal to relax sanctions and provide security guarantees as part of a step-by-step denuclearization process. The Trump administration wants Pyongyang to first agree to give up its entire nuclear weapons program.
North Korea is also upset at the South for failing to implement a series of 2018 agreements related to economic cooperation and reducing military tensions. The sanctions have prevented South Korea from moving ahead with the deals.
Pressure campaign halted
Last month, North Korea escalated tensions against the South, blowing up the de facto inter-Korean embassy just north of the border and cutting off communications channels with Seoul.
The moves were seen partly as an attempt to get Seoul to pressure Washington in the nuclear talks. However, the North’s motives became muddied after Kim last week abruptly suspended the pressure campaign without explanation.
The situation has been awkward for South Korea, a longtime U.S. ally that is currently led by a left-leaning administration that desperately wants to improve ties with the North.
Moon, whose 2018 meetings with Kim helped pave the way for the U.S.-North Korea diplomacy, is expected to prioritize the revitalization of inter-Korean ties during the final two years of his presidential term.