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Denuclearization definition is summit priority

Feb 23,2019
Ironing out a clear definition of denuclearization will be a foremost priority at the upcoming second summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in Hanoi, Vietnam, next week, a high-level U.S. government official said on Friday.

The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity on a conference call with reporters, stressed that Washington’s choice to participate in the summit is grounded in its belief in the “possibility that North Korea can make the choice to fully denuclearize.”

The two leaders will discuss what that denuclearization will mean, building a consensus upon which the two sides can cooperate to freeze the North’s nuclear and missile programs and work out a roadmap toward complete dismantlement.

Trump’s remarks on Thursday that he was not in a hurry to see the process play out, the official added, do not mean that denuclearization is not important but was meant to give Pyongyang an incentive to “make the right choice.”

Stressing that such a choice would necessitate not small steps but “big bites” from Pyongyang, the official said the United States would ultimately require the North to declare its entire nuclear capacity.

These assurances from a top U.S. official appears to be one of a number of public relations engagements undertaken by figures in the Trump administration to shore up its stance before entering a second high-stakes summit with one of its most strident adversaries.

Appearing on NBC’s Today show on Thursday, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo again repeated that Washington would not relax the “toughest economic sanctions that have ever been placed on North Korea” until it is confident that Pyongyang has “substantially reduced” its nuclear threat.

The top U.S. diplomat did not elaborate on what an alternative concession could be.

Pompeo also gave an interview the same day on Fox Business where he compared North Korea’s denuclearization to the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, saying he never expected such an event to occur when he was a young soldier serving in West Germany.

“I think the work that we’ve done, the economic sanctions that have been in place, negotiations that President Trump has led, I hope one day we all wake up and we get a moment just like the one that the world had in 1989,” he said.

Expectations aside, however, the preparations for the summit are in full swing on the ground in Hanoi, where the top U.S. negotiator for the event, Stephen Biegun, met his counterpart from Pyongyang, Kim Hyok-chol, for several hours at a hotel on Thursday. Their meeting is the third of its kind and is expected to lay out the inner workings of a broad declaration that will be signed by the two leaders next week.

Various sources familiar with the negotiations, including Biegun and Pompeo themselves on separate occasions, have hinted that a declaration of a formal end to the 1950-53 Korean War could be a likely outcome of the summit. This would be in lieu of a sanctions relief, which has been openly denied by the same sources.

Not to be left out in the discussions, Seoul sent its own nuclear envoy, Lee Do-hoon, to Hanoi on Friday to consult Biegun on the negotiation strategy regarding the summit, according to a government source in Seoul.

The latest twist in the lead up to the summit, however, involves speculation that emerged on Friday that Kim Jong-un may not take a flight to Vietnam, as was previously expected, but instead travel to Hanoi via rail across China - a trip that would take him several days.

According to a local source at Dandong, China, just across the border from North Korea, security has suddenly been tightened in the area, and the Zhonglian hotel, close to where trains cross the border, has stopped taking all reservations over the weekend and even canceled bookings.

The Chinese government conducted a similar security clamp down in the area during Kim’s previous visits by train to the country, the latest of which took place on Jan. 8. Kim took a special train to Beijing to meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping, which took around 14 hours. A trip to Hanoi across the Chinese mainland would take approximately 60 hours.

A government source in Seoul said that there was a possibility Kim could travel to Hanoi via train and meet Xi along the way, but said that such information would be kept a secret by Pyongyang. If Kim were to meet the Chinese leader before the summit - similar to how he met Xi slightly over a month before his first meeting with Trump in Singapore last June - it could serve as a signal to Washington that Beijing is watching Pyongyang’s back.

BY SHIM KYU-SEOK [shim.kyuseok@joongang.co.kr]