North Korean leader Kim Jong Un (Photo via Reuters/File)
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is planning an unprecedented flurry of summits with world leaders, as he steps up his push to ease sanctions four months after a landmark meeting with US President Donald Trump.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in told parliament Thursday that Kim would likely visit Russia and South Korea “soon” while he expected Chinese President Xi Jinping to visit Pyongyang in the near future. Moon, who made the remarks while outlining next year’s budget, said the North Korean leader could also possibly hold a separate meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
For those keeping score, here’s the latest list of summits Kim’s considering (leader, status, location):
Donald Trump (US): Possibly in January, Location TBD
Vladimir Putin (Russia): Soon, Russia
Xi Jinping (China): Soon, North Korea
Pope Francis (Holy See): Invited, North Korea
Shinzo Abe (Japan): Possible, TBD
Moon Jae-in (South Korea): Soon, South Korea
The agenda shows how the once-reclusive North Korean leader’s diplomatic isolation has fallen away since Trump granted him the first-ever summit between sitting leaders of the two countries in June. Kim has used that legitimacy to lobby for relief from international sanctions, while resisting US calls to give up his nuclear weapons program.
Moon has been a key proponent of Kim’s outreach effort, pressing ahead with plans to deepen cooperation between the two Koreas and last month inviting Pope Francis to visit Pyongyang. The details of Kim’s busy schedule were among several developments as the various parties jockeyed to advance their goals:
Tensions Ease at DMZ
On Thursday, the heavily fortified border separating North and South Korea saw some of the biggest physical changes yet resulting from the historic rapprochement between the two leaders. Kim and Moon’s agreement in September to cease all “hostile activities” on the border, including live-fire drills and field training, took effect Nov. 1.
Military officials on both sides have said they’re committed to following through. South Korea moved its exercises away from the military demarcation line, which serves as a land border, and covered or shut down the artillery near their sea boundary. North Korea also recently shut down some artillery installations near the western sea border.
As Kim boosts ties with South Korea — as well as China and Russia — he’s stepping up his complaints about the sanctions crimping plans to develop his impoverished economy. He leveled some of his most blunt criticism yet of the restrictions while visiting a construction site in the northeastern coastal city of Wonsan, according to the state-run Korean Central News Agency.
“The hostile forces are foolishly keen on vicious sanctions to stand in our way toward promotion of people’s well-being and development and to lead us to change and submission,” KCNA cited Kim as saying, without specifying who he was referring to. “They will be made to clearly see over time how our country that has built its own strength hundreds of times defying hardship.”
Meanwhile, US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo held out the prospect for a second Trump-Kim summit, which has been delayed as the two sides struggle to advance an agreement signed during their first meeting. Pompeo said Wednesday during an appearance on Fox News’s “Laura Ingraham Show” that the two leaders would probably meet early next year, when “we can make a substantial breakthrough in taking down the nuclear threat from North Korea.”
The remark acknowledged how much work remains undone after Trump declared that North Korea was “no longer a nuclear threat” after the first summit in Singapore. Pompeo said he would speak to his “North Korean counterpart” next week to discuss progress, even though working-level negotiations involving the special envoy he appointed in August, Stephen Biegun, still haven’t started.
Changing of the Guard
On Wednesday, the US and South Korean defense chiefs agreed to a plan for giving Seoul command during the event of any war on the Korean Peninsula. Although unrelated to the recent detente with Kim, the plan illustrates the changing role of America’s postwar troop presence in the region.
The document laid out guiding principles for a “conditions-based transition” — including keeping a US general as deputy commander — while guaranteeing that American troops would continue to be stationed in South Korea. Defense Secretary James Mattis and South Korean counterpart Jeong Kyeong-doo also agreed to conduct a joint study next year to assess the alliance’s role after North Korea’s “final, fully verified denuclearization.”