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Trump blesses Games, remains stern on North

White House says call with Moon addressed human rights issues
Feb 05,2018
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Donald Trump
In a phone conversation with U.S. President Donald Trump one week before the Winter Olympics on Friday, President Moon Jae-in emphasized hope for improved relations with North Korea, while Trump indicated more caution.

According to the Blue House, Moon expressed optimism that the “momentum in the improvement in inter-Korean dialogue through the PyeongChang Olympics will continue in the future and contribute to peace on the Korean Peninsula.”

In his 30-minute conversation with Trump late Friday, Moon also said, “I look forward to U.S. Vice President Mike Pence’s visit to South Korea to play an important role in this turning point.”

Pence will lead the U.S. delegation at the PyeongChang Winter Olympics when the Games open Friday.

Yoon Young-chan, the president’s senior press secretary, said Saturday that the two leaders agreed to cooperate closely when South Korea hosts the Olympics and exchanged views on how to proceed with the situation on the Korean Peninsula after the Paralympics end on March 18.

Trump was quoted by Yoon as having relayed that just three or four weeks ago, countries were concerned about participating in the PyeongChang Olympics and even considered withdrawing because of the North Korean threat, but he does not feel any such fear right now.

The U.S. president, according to Yoon, also conveyed that he was “100 percent with South Korea” and offered his blessing for a successful and safe Olympics.

Moon was said to have relayed to Trump that his “consistent and principled policy on the Korean Peninsula issue largely contributed to North Korea attending the Games and creating an atmosphere in which a peaceful Olympics could be held.”

Outside North Korea-related concerns, Trump also addressed the issue of the United States’ trade imbalance with South Korea.

According to Yoon, Moon conveyed to Trump that his administration would faithfully follow through with ongoing negotiations over their free trade agreement.

Moon has held out hope that the Olympics might contribute to an atmosphere conducive for dialogue between North Korea and the United States.

A Blue House official told the JoongAng Ilbo on Sunday, “The president sounded out the idea and possibility of opening the door to talks between North Korea and the United States, and President Trump did not agree or disagree with this.”

The White House likewise said in a statement that Trump spoke with Moon “to wish him and the Korean people a successful Winter Olympic Games.”

It added that the two leaders “discussed the importance of improving the human rights situation in North Korea and underscored their commitment to work together on this issue.”

Trump also “reiterated his commitment to addressing the trade imbalance between the two countries,” the White House said.

The official Korean statement did not explicitly mention a discussion of human rights issues in North Korea.

Trump also addressed the ongoing inter-Korean talks ahead of the Winter Games to reporters after meeting with a group of North Korean defectors at the White House on Friday.

“I just had a phone call with the president of South Korea, President Moon, and they are in dialogue, at least as it concerns the Olympics,” Trump said in the Oval Office. “And that’s a good thing, not a bad thing.”

Trump said he also had a call with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on North Korea and described it as “a very tricky situation.”

“But we think the Olympics will go very nicely,” the president said. “And after that, who knows. We’ll find out. We’re going to find out pretty soon, I suspect.”

The White House said in a statement that Abe and Trump “agreed on the need to intensify the international maximum pressure campaign to denuclearize North Korea.”

Trump thanked Japan’s efforts to this end, “including recent efforts to clamp down on North Korea’s attempts to circumvent sanctions in the waters surrounding the Korean Peninsula.”

The two leaders also discussed ways to strengthen Japan’s defense capabilities, including an expanded missile defense system.

Trump’s remarks come after the revelation last week that Victor Cha, a former White House National Security Council official, was dropped from consideration as U.S. ambassador to Seoul.

Cha, Korea chair at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and a Georgetown University professor, was nominated to the position in December, but was reported to have a falling out with the White House when he expressed trepidations over a “bloody nose” strategy on North Korea.

The strategy refers to a limited military strike on key North Korean nuclear and missile facilities advocated by some members of the Trump administration, including the national security adviser, H.R. McMaster.

Vice President Pence in a speech in Pittsburgh on Friday said he would be heading to Korea to attend the Olympics and cheer on American athletes but at the same time send a short and clear message on North Korea.

He emphasized that the “era of strategic patience” was over, a reference to the Barack Obama administration’s approach to North Korea. It was a notion that Pence had underscored during his last visit to Seoul in April 2017.

Pence added that “all options are on the table” for responding to nuclear threats from North Korea and that the United States would continue its campaign of economic and diplomatic pressure until North Korea gives up its weapons program.

Pence is set to make a three-day visit to Japan starting Tuesday before heading to Korea. He has a meeting scheduled with Japanese Prime Minister Abe on Wednesday, in which he’s expected to discuss, among other issues, maximizing pressure on Pyongyang to give up its weapons program.

The White House announced Thursday that the U.S. delegation to attend the opening ceremony of the PyeongChang Olympics will include Pence’s wife, Karen Pence; Republican Rep. Ed Royce of California, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee; Gen. Vincent Brooks, commander of the U.S. Forces Korea and United Nations Command; Gen. James Thurman, former commander the U.S. Forces Korea; Sarah Hughes, former American figure skater and 2002 Olympic gold medalist; and Marc Knapper, Washington’s acting ambassador to Seoul.

Prime Minister Abe, who is scheduled to meet with Moon on Friday, plans to request the speedy resumption of South Korea’s annual joint military exercises with the United States, which have been delayed until after the Olympics, the Tokyo-based Sankei Shimbun reported Sunday.

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