South Korean President Moon Jae-in departed Seoul Air Base for Washington DC on Wednesday afternoon for what will be his seventh face-to-face meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump.
The two leaders are expected to meet on Thursday at the White House, in summit widely expected to see Moon seek ways to break an ongoing diplomatic deadlock between the DPRK and the U.S.
Moon and Trump last met in person four months ago, at a summit held on the sidelines of the G20 Leaders’ Summit in Buenos Aires in November.
A plane carrying Moon and his aides left the Seoul Air Base at around 1700 local time, the South Korean presidential office confirmed to NK News
After arriving at Joint Base Andrews on Wednesday afternoon, the South Korean President will meet with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, national security advisor John Bolton, and Vice President Mike Pence the following morning.
A one-on-one meeting between Trump and Moon at the White House will then take place, followed by enlarged talks and a working luncheon attended by Cabinet members and key aides.
One Presidential official on Tuesday said the visit would serve as an opportunity for the two leaders to discuss ways to restart nuclear negotiations between Pyongyang and Washington.
The two leaders, second deputy chief of the National Security Office (NSO) Kim Hyun-chong said Tuesday during a press briefing, plan to “seek concrete measures to achieve the complete denuclearization and establish permanent peace on the Korean peninsula.”
The two countries previously agreed that the bilateral discussions would be key to reviving momentum for dialogue between Washington and Pyongyang.
Other pending issues, including military cost sharing and U.S. tariffs on South Korean cars, are also likely to be on the agenda.
Speaking at a meeting with his senior secretaries, President Moon earlier this month said he and Trump planned to hold “in-depth discussions” on how their countries can work together to “advance the peace process on the Korean peninsula.”
Topics under discussion also likely include the “resumption of U.S.-North Korea dialogue, the complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula, and the creation of a virtuous cycle of inter-Korean and U.S.-North Korea relations,” he added.
Since the second DPRK-U.S. summit in Hanoi’s surprise no-deal conclusion, multiple senior South Korean officials have stressed that Seoul and Washington remain united on the goal of “complete denuclearization” of the peninsula.
But there also appears to be a growing gap between the allies: in the aftermath of that summit, the South Korean government has repeatedly argued that Pyongyang should be given more incentives to denuclearize.
These incentives have been described by officials in Seoul as representing an “early harvest” for the North, with one senior presidential official on Tuesday saying Moon and Trump planned to discuss the plans this week.
Another high-ranking ROK official in mid-March said the U.S. ought to reconsider its “all-or-nothing strategy” towards the North, stressing that it will be “practically difficult to achieve the goal of complete denuclearization all at once.”
In order to “make meaningful progress towards denuclearization,” the Blue House official said, Seoul believes in the “necessity of making an ‘early harvest’ once or twice.”
Through this strategy, the South Korean government believes, Washington and Pyongyang can build trust and establish mutual confidence that will eventually lead to the “achievement of the ultimate goal.”
Seoul’s plan is to encourage Pyongyang to agree to a “roadmap to achieve the comprehensive goal” by changing a “small deal into a good-enough deal,” the official explained.
Speaking at a conference in Seoul last Thursday, South Korean chief nuclear envoy Lee Do-hoon also reiterated his support for the “early harvest” concept.
“When dialogue resumes, a substantive early harvest is of utmost importance,” Lee said in a statement carried by Yonhap News Agency.
It remains unclear what this “early harvest” package could involve, however.
The run-up to this week’s summit has seen mounting speculation that Moon will use the meeting to lobby for sanctions exemptions allowing the two Koreas to restart cooperation at two key inter-Korean sites.
Despite this, National Security Office official Kim Hyun-chong on Friday said there had been no consultation between the ROK and the U.S. over the prospect of reopening the Kaesong Industrial Complex (KIC) or the Mount Kumgang tourism resort.
Kim, however, said the two leaders were this week expected to hold “more in-depth discussions” on the issues.
Other agenda topics for the Moon-Trump meeting, he added, would be how to utilize a “top-down,” summit-driven approach as a means to resolve the North Korean nuclear issue.
Seoul has since the failure of the February Hanoi summit dismissed concerns about the limitation of this leader-focused style of diplomacy.
Chief envoy Lee, for example, last Thursday insisted the idea “is still very valid and the limitations do not outweigh the merits,” pointing to progress made last year.
Edited by Oliver Hotham
Featured Image: Blue House
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