|Cheong Wa Dae officials have recently visited the U.S. for consultations on North Korea and other bilateral issues. Yonhap|
By Do Je-hae
President Moon Jae-in is trying to resuscitate the denuclearization talks between North Korea and the United States, while concurrently gain support for his push to improve inter-Korean relations, despite mounting challenges to his "peace process."
President Donald Trump has shown little interest in restarting talks with the North in an election year, and the absence of any reference to Pyongyang in his State of the Union address, unlike in previous years, was seen as a signal of a shift in priorities. Recently, Trump also told his advisers that he does not want another a summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un before the November presidential election.
The problem for Cheong Wa Dae is that Trump's dwindling enthusiasm for diplomacy with North Korea is not conducive to Moon's policy centering on engagement. Since the beginning of the year, Moon has declared his government will seek to improve inter-Korean relations.
Latest reports states that Cheong Wa Dae is in the process of lining up a series of summits with the U.S., China and Russia to convince them of the need to improve inter-Korean relations and salvage the U.S.-North Korea talks.
Moon sent his top national security adviser Chung Eui-yong to Washington last month, which was followed by another visit by Kim Hyon-chong, the second deputy director of the presidential National Security Office (NSO), earlier this month. The visits have triggered speculation that they delivered Moon's intention to push ahead with a pro-engagement policy toward North Korea and his seeking of U.S. cooperation in this regard. But the U.S. has been negative about such an approach and has maintained the need for the U.S. and Korea to be in "lockstep" on the North.
Given the wide gap with the U.S., the possibility of a U.S.-Korea summit has been raised amid added tension between the allies on various issues, such as the U.S.-Korea Special Measures Agreement (SMA) negotiations to determine Korea's share of the costs for maintaining the USFK.
The possibility of a Trump-Moon meeting is particularly gaining attention ahead of the April 15 general election, as summits have been known to be effective in increasing public support here. But Cheong Wa Dae has denied news reports linking the election with a possible summit. "The reports regarding a Korea-U.S summit are not true. It does not make sense to link diplomatic issues with the election," a presidential aide told reporters Feb. 14.
Seoul is also trying to confirm summits with China and Russia. The two countries proposed a draft U.N. Security Council resolution in December 2019 that would provide partial sanctions relief for Pyongyang.
Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha said during a security conference in Germany last week that details are being discussed to arrange a summit with Chinese President Xi Jinping in the early half of the year. Cheong Wa Dae also confirmed that Putin's visit to Korea is being arranged to mark the 30th anniversary of the establishment of bilateral relations.