South Korean President, Called ‘Officious’ by Kim Jong-un, Still Wants to Meet

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SEOUL, South Korea — President Moon Jae-in of South Korea said on Monday that he wanted to meet again with North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, making the overture three days after Mr. Kim dismissed Mr. Moon’s mediating efforts between the North and the United States as “officious.”

“Now is the time to begin the preparations in earnest for an inter-Korean summit,” Mr. Moon said. “As soon as the North becomes ready, I hope the two Koreas will be able to sit down together, regardless of venue and form, and hold detailed and substantive talks on how to achieve further progress that goes beyond the previous two summits between Chairman Kim and President Trump.”

Mr. Moon met with Mr. Kim three times last year to help pave the way for Mr. Kim’s first summit meeting with Mr. Trump in Singapore last June and their second meeting in Hanoi, Vietnam, in late February. Mr. Moon has repeatedly argued that a nuclear disarmament deal is possible, insisting that Mr. Kim is willing to give up his weapons and focus on economic growth should Washington provide the right incentives.

But Mr. Moon’s mediating role was cast into doubt when the Hanoi summit ended abruptly without a deal, and he has since been struggling to assert his relevance. Despite Mr. Moon’s optimism, both Mr. Trump and Mr. Kim found in Hanoi that their terms on denuclearizing North Korea remained too far apart for a compromise.

Last Thursday, Mr. Moon visited the White House to urge Mr. Trump to revive the stalled talks between Washington and Pyongyang. Mr. Trump said that while he was willing to meet with Mr. Kim for a third time, he was in no hurry. United States officials hope that the tightening vise of international sanctions will eventually force North Korea back to the negotiating table with a more palatable offer.

“It’s not going to go fast,” Mr. Trump said. “If it goes fast, it’s not going to be the proper deal.”

Mr. Moon is eager to resume inter-Korean economic projects that have been suspended, such as the Kaesong industrial complex, to help improve ties with the North. But Mr. Trump said it was not “the right time” for such projects.

On Friday, speaking to his country’s rubber-stamp parliament, Mr. Kim ridiculed Mr. Moon’s efforts. He said South Korea should abandon its “sycophancy” toward the United States and “subordinate everything to the improvement of North-South ties.”

“The South Korean authorities should not act as officious ‘mediators’ and ‘boosters’ that adopt a vacillating stand depending on the trend and engage themselves in an array of visits, but be a party advocating the interests of the nation with its own spirit and voice, being part of the nation,” Mr. Kim said.

Mr. Kim also told lawmakers that he might consider meeting with Mr. Trump again, but only if Washington made a new proposal his government could accept by the end of the year.

The Hanoi talks collapsed after Mr. Kim demanded the lifting of the most biting sanctions in return for the partial dismantlement of his country’s nuclear weapons program. Mr. Trump rejected Mr. Kim’s offer as insufficient; the United States insists it will not lift sanctions on the North without complete, verifiable denuclearization.

On Monday, Mr. Moon did not respond to Mr. Kim’s characterization of his efforts as “officious.”

Instead, he put a positive spin on Mr. Kim’s speech, in which the North Korean leader also expressed his “unwavering determination, as clarified before, to turn North-South ties into those of durable and lasting reconciliation and cooperation.”

Mr. Moon expressed “high regard for Chairman Kim’s unwavering commitment” in considering a third summit meeting with Mr. Trump. He even interpreted Mr. Kim’s speech as declaring “his firm commitment toward achieving denuclearization,” although Mr. Kim did not use the word “denuclearization” in his address.

Mr. Moon said keeping dialogue open and building peace on the Korean Peninsula was “a matter of survival” for South Koreans, and he defended his diplomatic role.

“As the architect of the peace process on the Korean Peninsula, we have done what we have to and what we can do in a way that befits our status as the master of the fate on the Korean Peninsula,” he said. “My government will not shrink from this responsibility.”

Mr. Kim’s speech, including his conditional willingness to meet with Mr. Trump, has left room for Mr. Moon’s engagement efforts, analysts said. Mr. Moon also benefited from North Korea’s decision not to stage a military parade on Monday to mark the birthday of Kim Il-sung, Mr. Kim’s late grandfather and the founder of North Korea.

But with inter-Korean economic projects still frozen, Mr. Kim may see little incentive to meet with Mr. Moon anytime soon.

“It is not clear if what South Korea can offer under the sanctions regime is enough to entice North Korea back to talks,” said Leif-Eric Easley, a professor of international studies at Ewha Womans University in Seoul.

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