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Trump receives third letter from Kim Jong-un

Little progress made on denuclearization or security guarantees
Aug 04,2018
U.S. President Donald Trump received another letter from North Korean leader Kim Jong-un on Aug. 1 and responded to it, the White House confirmed Thursday as the two leaders try to get out of the gridlock that followed their summit in Singapore in June.

“He did receive a letter. I believe he received it on Aug. 1,” Sarah Sanders, the White House spokeswoman, said at a press briefing Thursday, adding that the former real estate mogul “responded to Chairman Kim’s letter” and that it would be “delivered shortly,” without going into details.

In the letter exchange, Sanders continued, the two leaders “addressed their commitment from their joint statement” signed at the June 12 Singapore summit in which the North committed itself “to work toward complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” but without setting a timetable or specific measures on how to achieve it.

Sanders noted there was no planning underway for the pair’s second meeting, though she said the White House was “open to that discussion.”

Despite the high-profile summit, progress between the two countries on the North’s denuclearization appears to have ground to a halt.

As part of its follow-up measures for the June 12 joint statement, the North dismantled facilities at its Sohae Missile Engine Test site last month in addition to demolishing its Punggye-ri nuclear testing site in May. It also returned remains of U.S. soldiers killed in the 1950-53 Korean War last week to keep its word on one of the June 12 agreements.

But Washington has been silent on the issue of declaring an end to the Korean War - which was stopped by a truce, not a peace treaty, leaving the two Koreas technically at war for more than 65 years - or other kinds of security assurances for the Kim regime.

Demonstrating Washington’s reluctance to jump into end of the war declaration, Harry Harris, the new U.S. ambassador to Korea, said Thursday in a group interview with local media that the United States and the North “can entertain something like the end-of-war declaration” if the North made “demonstrative moves toward denuclearization,” which the former four-star admiral said “hasn’t happened.”

Declaring a formal end to the three-year conflict is a major goal for both South and North Korea. For the North, making a political statement to declare an official end to the war is an essential step before signing a peace treaty with Washington.

Once the North has a peace treaty signed, it can work with the United States on opening diplomatic relations and having a U.S. embassy in Pyongyang, a presence that the North sees as vital to boosting its regime security.

The South sees the declaring of an end to the war as a first step towards a permanent peace regime on the Korean Peninsula. The Blue House has said that the faster such a declaration can be made, the better it will be for the two Koreas to establish the peace regime and nudge the North to accelerate its denuclearization efforts.

Trump’s receiving of Kim’s letter came a month after the North Korean leader sent a second letter to Trump, dated July 6, filled with personal praise of Trump’s leadership and addressing him as “Your Excellency” five times.

“I firmly believe that the strong will, sincere efforts and unique approach of myself and Your Excellency Mr. President aimed at opening up a new future between the DPRK and the U.S. will surely come to fruition,” Kim said in the gushing letter, using an acronym for the North’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

The first letter was sent June 1. Its contents are unknown.

With the apparent gridlock over denuclearization, South Korea has reassumed its self-proclaimed role of mediator trying to narrow down the differences of Pyongyang and Washington.

The Blue House sent Suh Hoon, head of the National Intelligence Service, and Chung Eui-yong, President Moon Jae-in’s national security adviser, to Washington over a span of two weeks last month to discuss an end to the war.

There have been reports that Moon and North Korean leader Kim could meet for a third summit this month.

Attention is now turning to Singapore, where top diplomats from the two Koreas and the United States have come for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations Regional Forum on Saturday.

It’s possible that North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho could have talks with his U.S. counterpart, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

BY KANG JIN-KYU [kang.jinkyu@joongang.co.kr]