US team in North Korea raises expectations of Trump-Kim summit

Report says South Korean President Moon Jae-in may join Trump and Kim in Singapore for possible three-way talks.

US officials are in Panmunjom village at the demilitarised zone for discussions on a possible Kim-Trump summit [Joel Lawrence/Al Jazeera]
US and South Korean officials say pre-summit discussions took place in Panmunjom [Joel Lawrence/Al Jazeera]

A team of American officials was in North Korea on Monday to discuss a historic summit between Kim Jong-un and US President Donald Trump, raising expectations that the meeting called off last week might still happen.

“Our United States team has arrived in North Korea to make arrangements for the summit between Kim Jong Un and myself,” Trump tweeted late on Sunday.

“I truly believe North Korea has brilliant potential and will be a great economic and financial Nation one day. Kim Jong Un agrees with me on this. It will happen!”

Both the US state department and South Korea’s foreign ministry said officials were in discussions at the Korean village of Panmunjom, which straddles the border in the demilitarised zone (DMZ).

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tapped veteran American diplomat Sung Kim, the US ambassador to the Philippines, to lead the US delegation to Pyongyang to handle pre-summit negotiations.

Sung, who is of Korean descent, had served as the US ambassador to Seoul and was part of the US team that negotiated during the six-party talks with North Korea.

On Monday, South Korea’s Yonhap news agency also reported that a senior North Korean official had arrived in Beijing, apparently on his way to Singapore for pre-summit talks.

A team of US officials, led by White House deputy chief of staff Joe Hagin, is also reportedly travelling to Singapore to help plan the June 12 meeting.

Trump cancelled the planned summit in Singapore on Thursday, only to change his mind a day later.

Surprise meeting

South Korean President Moon Jae-in gave details about a surprise meeting on Saturday with Kim in Panmunjom, saying North Korea’s leader committed to sitting down with Trump and to “complete denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula”.

On Monday, South Korea’s Yonhap news agency reported that Moon could also make a trip to Singapore for a possible three-way summit with Trump and Kim around June 12.

An unnamed South Korean presidential official said a three-way meeting depends on the outcome of the ongoing discussions between Washington and Pyongyang.

WATCH: Donald Trump – US-North Korea summit back on for June 12

“The discussions are just getting started, so we are still waiting to see how they come out, but depending on their outcome, the president could join President Trump and Chairman Kim in Singapore,” Yonhap quoted the official as saying.

Moon and Kim reportedly first proposed a three-way summit during their first-ever meeting at the border village of Panmunjom on April 27.

The talks, which Moon said Kim had requested, capped a whirlwind 24 hours of diplomatic back and forth.

While maintaining that Kim is committed to denuclearisation, Moon acknowledged Pyongyang and Washington might have different expectations of what that means, and he urged both sides to hold working-level talks to resolve their differences.

American officials are sceptical that Kim will ever entirely abandon his nuclear weapons, and Moon said North Korea is not yet convinced it can trust security guarantees from the US.

Robert Kelly, a professor of international relations at Pusan National University, said Trump should lay out what the US is specifically looking for, instead of demanding that Pyongyang give up everything.

“They [North Koreans] would not do that,” he told Al Jazeera, adding the Trump administration does not have a grand diplomatic strategy ahead of the talks.

“Assuming that the North Koreans aren’t going to give up all of it, what would be the United States willing to live with, and what would they give the North Koreans in return,” Kelly said.

He said it could take years before the parties would be able to fulfil the concessions and counter-concessions, adding that it would be “extraordinary” if negotiations “would wrap up in the next three weeks”.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies