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4th Trump-Kim summit gains momentum

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U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un hold a
U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un hold a "mini summit" at Freedom House on the southern side of the inter-Korean border village of Panmunjeom, Sunday. Yonhap

Some skepticism rises over future of nuclear talks

By Lee Min-hyung

With a de facto third summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un taking place Sunday amid an at least outwardly friendly mood, all eyes are on when ― and if ― Kim will visit the White House following an invitation from Trump.

It remains too early to make predictions on the timeframe of any possible trip to the U.S., according to experts familiar with the matter. They said this depends on how the upcoming working-level nuclear disarmament talks between Washington and Pyongyang unfold.

"Any timeframe for Kim's potential trip to Washington, D.C., depends on how the seemingly imminent working-level dialogue will proceed," said Shin Beom-chul, a senior researcher at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies.

Trump invited Kim to the U.S. presidential house during their surprise meeting at the inter-Korean border village of Panmunjeom in the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ).

Following the proposal, analyst say the possibility is that Trump will take political advantage of any upcoming summit with Kim by arranging the meeting close to the 2020 U.S. presidential election.

"My view is that Kim can visit the White House anytime if diplomatic relations are normalized," Shin said. "Any possible upcoming summit between Trump and Kim will not have much effect on Trump's re-election if the North does not resume military provocations."

Regardless of the summit itself, Trump can boast that he has stopped the North from engaging in military provocations through a series of summits with Kim; and the U.S. leader will continue to underline this fact in his presidential campaign for re-election, Shin said.

Complicated road ahead

Trump's landmark summit with Kim at the inter-Korean border has rekindled the dialogue momentum between Washington and Pyongyang, but the meeting in itself will not serve as a cure-all for their upcoming denuclearization negotiations, according to political analysts.

Park Won-gon, a professor of international relations at Handong Global University, said the recent "mini summit" changed the mood toward the months-long nuclear stalemate between the two, but they still face a tough road ahead in resolving the conundrum on the Korean Peninsula.

"North Korea changed its working-level nuclear negotiation teams with the focus on officials from its foreign ministry, represented by the North's Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho and Vice Minister Choe Son-hui," Park said.

Before the failed Hanoi summit last February, the North's former top nuclear envoy Kim Yong-chol stood at the forefront in negotiations with the U.S.

"Kim Yong-chol does not have enough expertise in handling negotiations on the nuclear issues of the North, compared with the foreign ministry officials," Park said. "They are capable of building a specific denuclearization roadmap from scratch."

Even if the latest meeting between Trump and Kim revived dialogue, they still must narrow their differences on denuclearization. "The two are likely to focus on narrowing the differences during their upcoming negotiations, but as of now, the issues are still there," Park said.

Lim Eul-chul, a professor at the Institute for Far East Studies at Kyungnam University, said U.S. special representative for North Korea Stephen Biegun will play a bigger role in handling the nuclear negotiations that will resume in the next two or three weeks.

"Biegun will have more authority in the upcoming talks with his North Korean counterpart, possibly Choe," Lim said. "Details will be discussed between the two, with Pompeo and Ri supervising every step of the negotiation process."

Lee Min-hyung

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