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Trump discusses North with Moon envoy

Hong Seok-hyun’s meeting in Oval Office lasted 15 minutes
May 19,2017
U.S. President Donald Trump expressed his support for engagement with North Korea to make peace - under the right conditions - to President Moon Jae-in’s special envoy to Washington Wednesday.

“Though we are now at the stage of pressure and sanctions, [President Trump] said he has a willingness to make peace through so-called ‘engagement’ if certain conditions are right,” said Hong Seok-hyun, the special envoy to the Unites States, to reporters after his meeting with Trump at the White House. “He said, however, that rather than holding talks simply for the sake of talks, he is willing to hold talks that produce some outcome.”

This marks the first time Trump has publicly proposed “to make peace” with Pyongyang in reference to the North Korea issue. The Trump administration is also indicating a shift in the possibility of dialogue with Pyongyang, leaving room for cooperation with the Moon administration on engagement of North Korea in the future.

Hong, chairman of the Korean Peninsula Forum and a former U.S. ambassador, led the Korean delegation to Washington Wednesday, the first meeting of an envoy of the new Moon administration with Trump.

The 15-minute meeting between Hong and Trump at the Oval Office was attended by U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, U.S. National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, and senior adviser Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law.

Hong delivered a letter from Moon, who took office last week, to Trump. The special envoy added he conveyed Moon’s gratitude for the United States’ continuous consideration of South Korea’s security as well as thanks for President Trump’s invitation to an early bilateral summit to be held next month.

Trump was said to have remarked upon receiving Moon’s letter, “It’s beautiful.”

Following Moon and Trump’s first phone conversation on May 10, the two countries agreed earlier this week to hold the two leaders’ first summit in Washington in late June.

Trump expressed “great expectations for the summit with President Moon in June.”

The U.S. president went onto say that he “looks forward the outcome of working in close cooperation with President Moon to resolve the North Korea issue in the future,” according to Hong. “President Trump generally talked about the bigger picture, emphasizing that we can achieve an outcome through unity in our sturdy alliance and international cooperation.”

This is the first time a U.S. president received a South Korean special envoy in the Oval Office, and the unexpected attendance of Trump’s son-in-law Kushner in the meeting was also seen as a sign of respect for the Seoul delegation.

In his 40-minute talks with McMaster, Hong underscored that Korean conservatives and liberals all stand in unity in terms of security issues.

“The new administration has the willingness to solve the North Korean nuclear issue based on a solid security and the [South Korea-U.S.] alliance,” Hong told McMaster.

Hong went onto convey Seoul’s understanding of the Trump administration’s strategy of maximum pressure and engagement toward North Korea.

He emphasized Seoul agreed with Washington on the importance of sanctions and pressure on North Korea, adding that when conditions are matured, dialogue also has to be appropriately used.

McMaster also was said to have agreed to this principle, adding South Korea and the United States will have to cooperate and hold further discussions on the conditions necessary for dialogue with the North. He called for bilateral working-level talks on this.

Hong also lauded Trump’s efforts to pressure China to resolve the North Korea nuclear issue.

He added, “We are well aware how much effort President Trump has put into leading China” to more actively rein in North Korea, emphasizing the importance of the South Korea-U.S. alliance in that process.

Hong’s words are seen as an effort to alleviate any worries within the U.S. government about the new Moon administration’s policy on North Korea and the South Korea-U.S. alliance.

Moon, who has been an advocate of engagement with the North, said during his campaign last December that Pyongyang would be the first destination he would visit if elected president.

However, in his inaugural speech last week, Moon said he will visit Washington with speed, adding he will hold a North Korea summit “if circumstances permit.”

Hong, a longtime advocate of Korean Peninsula issues, arrived in Washington earlier in the day for a four-day visit and is expected to hold meetings with U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Defense Secretary James Mattis and other senior U.S. government officials, as well as opinion leaders.

“President Trump remarking that he will not hold talks for the sake of talk, and only under the right conditions, shows again the shared understanding between the two countries,” said Cho June-hyuck, spokesman of the South Korea’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs Thursday.

He added that this is in line with Moon’s statement at a Sunday meeting of the South Korean National Security Council that dialogue is possible only if and when there is a change in North Korea’s behavior.

“There will be close cooperation between us ... for a resolute and pragmatic plan for our joint goal toward the complete scrapping of North Korea’s nuclear program,” said Cho.

BY SARAH KIM [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]