If the United States continues to take the position that it won’t lift sanctions until North Korea’s complete denuclearization, then “incremental implementation won’t work,” he conceded.
And so, after what the senior South Korean official described as “a very harsh internal debate” within the Moon administration about which aggrieved party to consult first, the South Korean president has gone to Washington.
Asked whether President Moon had talked with North Korea’s leader about his plans for getting nuclear talks back on track, Moon Chung In responded, “I don’t think so.” Lee Soo Hyuck, a member of Moon’s party and of the National Assembly’s Foreign Affairs and Unification Committee, also told me he didn’t think that Moon and Kim had been in contact.
The senior South Korean official would not confirm whether the two leaders have spoken since the Vietnam summit, though the official added that the South Korean government has been sending messages to North Korea through various means—including an inter-Korean military channel and liaison office, along with the Chinese and Russian governments—to “calm down” in the aftermath of Hanoi and not “do anything stupid,” such as abandoning negotiations or ending its suspension of nuclear and missile tests by launching a rocket.
“Some people have been arguing that President Moon should meet Kim Jong Un first—that is what President Trump wanted—and then go to Washington. But we can talk with the American president much more easily because we’re allies,” Moon Chung In said. He added that North Korea “wouldn’t accept” meetings with South Korean envoys if those envoys couldn’t speak to why Trump walked out of the Hanoi summit and what he now wants from North Korea.
President Moon is eager to meet with Trump “because the mood in Washington is getting worse,” and he’s trying to “separate” the president, who still seems to favor dialogue, from more and more vocal hard-liners around him, Joon Hyung Kim, a former foreign-policy adviser to Moon’s presidential campaign and a professor at Handong Global University, told me.
Whether he’ll succeed in his mission is uncertain, but at the very least, Moon will seek to limit the damage from the Vietnam summit’s collapse.
Since the abrupt end of the Trump-Kim Vietnam meeting, military relations between the Koreas are “not as great as we had hoped,” another senior South Korean official observed. Whether they are good enough, the official did not say.
Reporting for this story was made possible by the Atlantic Council Korea Journalist Fellowship Program. The fellowship was sponsored by the Atlantic Council, a nonpartisan think tank in Washington, D.C., in partnership with the Korea Foundation.