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Security meeting focuses on upcoming summits

Korea, Japan, U.S. vow not to repeat past mistakes with North
Mar 20,2018
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Chung Eui-yong, H.R. McMaster, Shotaro Yachi
President Moon Jae-in’s national security adviser held two days of closed-door talks with his American and Japanese counterparts in San Francisco over the weekend to coordinate on upcoming summits with North Korea.

The Blue House said Monday that Chung Eui-yong, head of the National Security Office, traveled to California to speak with U.S. National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster and Japanese National Security Adviser Shotaro Yachi on Saturday and Sunday.

Kim Eui-kyeom, the Blue House spokesman, said the three countries’ security advisers held consultations on the “complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.” They also discussed plans for an inter-Korean summit slated for late April and historic summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un scheduled for May.

The spokesman said they “shared the importance of not repeating past failures and agreed to continue close cooperation in the upcoming several weeks.”

Chung, who led a South Korean delegation to Pyongyang earlier this month, flew to Washington on March 8 and briefed Trump and his top aides on North Korean leader Kim’s invitation to a summit, an olive branch that Trump accepted on the spot. Kim, through Chung, conveyed intent to refrain from any further nuclear or missile tests and a commitment to denuclearization.

The talks between Chung, McMaster and Yachi come just two months after a trilateral meeting held over Jan. 13 and 14 in San Francisco to discuss North Korea’s movements ahead of the PyeongChang Winter Olympics in February. The meeting over the weekend marked the first such trilateral talks since the inter-Korean summit was agreed upon last month.

“The discussions in San Francisco were mostly concentrated on consultations between South Korea and the United States,” a senior aide to President Moon said. “Furthermore, they shared the understanding that in a situation in which the South-North and North Korea-U.S. summits are to be held consecutively in April and May, their success is very important for the peace and stability of the Korean Peninsula as well as Northeast Asia, and they discussed in depth how to closely cooperate between South Korea and the United States to this end.”

Chung also shared the results of President Moon’s special envoy consultations with China, Japan and Russia over the past week, the aide said.

South Korea has been increasing its diplomatic activity ahead of the landmark summits. From Thursday to Saturday, Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha was in Washington to meet with John Sullivan, the acting U.S. secretary of state, and Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono, who was visiting the United States, to discuss the issue of North Korea’s nuclear weapons and the upcoming summits.

“He’s given his word,” Kang said in a pre-recorded interview for Sunday’s broadcast of CBS News’ “Face the Nation,” when asked about North Korean leader Kim’s actual commitment to denuclearization. “The significance of his word is quite weighty in the sense that this is the first time that the words came directly from the North Korean supreme leader himself, and that has never been done before.”

She said President Trump’s readiness to accept a summit invitation from Kim, which caught everyone by “surprise,” clearly demonstrates his “determination to resolve this issue once and for all,” something “hugely appreciated by the South Korean public.”

“We believe the North Korean leader is now taking stock,” Kang said. “We give them the benefit of the doubt, and the time that he would need to come out with some public messaging.”

She pointed out that the engagement was “very significant in itself,” especially since the North Korean leader has expressed willingness to come south of the demilitarized zone to the truce village of Panmunjom for the inter-Korean summit in April, which would be the third of its kind. The previous two in 2000 and 2007 were held in Pyongyang.

But she hinted that concrete discussion of North Korea’s nuclear weapons program may be saved for the U.S.-North summit, adding, “this is a concern not just for the United States but for South Korea as well.”

On Monday, Kang was scheduled to attend a meeting of European Union foreign ministers in Brussels. A day earlier, she met with Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom, who had held talks with North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho in Stockholm over the weekend. Sweden is reportedly helping negotiate the release of three Americans detained in North Korea.

Choe Kang-il, a senior diplomat handling North American affairs in North Korea’s Foreign Ministry, was in Helsinki, Finland, on Monday for a meeting with former South Korean and American officials, including a former U.S. ambassador to Seoul, after accompanying Ri in the Stockholm talks.

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