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Trump lauds ‘progress’ at summit in Pyongyang

Sept 22,2018
U.S. President Donald Trump said that “a lot of progress” is being made on the denuclearization of North Korea in a rally in Las Vegas Thursday evening, after the conclusion of the three-day inter-Korean summit in Pyongyang.

“You remember before I came in, it looked like we were going to war with North Korea - now we made a lot of progress,” said Trump. “Relationships are getting better and better.”

In the Pyongyang Declaration signed Wednesday by South Korean President Moon Jae-in and Kim, the North said it will “permanently dismantle” the Tongchang-ri missile engine test site and launch pad, and allow verification by outside experts. The North further said it is willing to permanently dismantle its key Yongbyon nuclear complex, “as the United States takes corresponding measures,” a move that the White House has welcomed. Washington has also signaled that it is preparing for follow-up negotiations with the North.

Less than a month ago, Trump had vented his frustrations at the lack of progress in denuclearization talks with the North since his summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un on June 12 in Singapore.

During the Las Vegas rally, Trump noted that North Korea released American detainees, halted its nuclear and missile testing and returned remains of U.S. troops who died during the 1950-53 Korean War.

He went on to announce, “We’ve also just identified the first remains of our fallen warriors from North Korea. The incredible heroes can now lay at rest in American soil.”

Earlier that day, Trump revealed over Twitter that Army Master Sgt. Charles H. McDaniel from Indiana and Army Private First Class William H. Jones of North Carolina were the first soldiers to be identified from the remains of troops sent by North Korea, crediting this as “a result of my Summit with Chairman Kim.”

Although unrelated to denuclearization, the return of the remains of U.S. soldiers is considered a confidence-building measure as the United States and North Korea negotiate a nuclear deal.

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence earlier Thursday lauded Kim Jong-un’s commitment to allow nuclear inspections and offer to permanently dismantle a key nuclear test site in an address to Korean War veterans.

“As the world saw this week, we continue to make progress toward our goal of forging a lasting peace on the Korean Peninsula free of nuclear weapons,” said Pence in a speech at the Korean War Veterans Memorial in Washington, referring to the outcome of the three-day inter-Korean summit held in Pyongyang, which concluded Thursday.

“Just recently, Kim Jong-un announced his commitment to allow nuclear inspections subject to final negotiations,” Pence noted, “and offered to permanently dismantle a test site and a launch pad in the presence of international observers.”

“We welcome this good news,” said Pence. “We look forward to further progress. And I can assure you, we will continue to work diligently to achieve peace and security on the Korean Peninsula.”

Pence recalled the June 12 summit in which the North Korean leader committed to complete denuclearization and promised to return the remains of U.S. soldiers that died during the 1950-53 Korean War.

“We cherish our alliance with the Republic of Korea,” said Pence, the son of a Korean War veteran, during the speech, saying Washington’s efforts toward the denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula is for its own “security and the security of the free people of South Korea.”

In July, North Korea returned 55 boxes of the presumed remains of U.S. soldiers, in keeping with one of the four points included in the June 12 Kim-Trump joint statement. Pence received the repatriated bodies in a ceremony in Hawaii last month, on Aug. 1.

But the U.S. State Department on Thursday once more adhered to its position that “denuclearization has to come first,” rebuffing North Korea’s offer to dismantle its key nuclear site after some kind of corresponding measures by the United States.

“Nothing can happen in the absence of denuclearization,” said Heather Nauert, spokesperson for the State Department, in a press briefing, addressing the question of whether Washington is ready to take “corresponding measures,” as proposed by North Korea. Pyongyang has been pushing for a phased, step-by-step, reciprocal process toward denuclearization, while Washington has been adamant that it will not ease stringent sanctions on the North or offer any rewards until there are significant steps toward complete denuclearization.

She said that Washington will continue to push for sanctions enforcement “without a doubt,” an indication that the State Department may be playing the “bad cop” to pressure the North to denuclearize.

Nauert underscored that having International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and U.S. inspectors is a “normal course of doing business” when there is a dismantlement process and a “mutual understanding” with the North Korean government.

For such IAEA or U.S. inspection to happen, it would require a full declaration by the North of its nuclear stockpile and related facilities which was not detailed in the inter-Korean summit agreement.

“We coordinate very closely with the South Koreans,” said Nauert, “but obviously have yet to meet with them face-to-face to fully flesh out the negotiations and the conversations and how those went in North Korea. So that’s the first step.”

But Nauert also noted that the Moon-Kim summit and talks between U.S. and North Korean governments is “a step in the right direction to start to have regular dialogue.”

She continued, “We see that as progress, and we’re prepared to engage immediately in negotiations if and when they’re ready.”

U.S. Secretary of State Pompeo proposed Wednesday to meet with North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho in New York next week, and Nauert confirmed that “an invitation went out” and that Pompeo stands by “ready to meet if they are able to.”

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