By Hyonhee Shin and Josh Smith
SEOUL (Reuters) – South Korean President Moon Jae-in told U.S. President Donald Trump in a call on Tuesday that his country is willing to open economic engagement with North Korea as a “concession” if it will hasten Pyongyang’s denuclearization, Moon’s office said.
Trump is scheduled to meet North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Vietnam next week for a second summit aimed at enticing Kim to follow through on his pledge to abandon nuclear weapons.
Since Trump and Kim first met in June last year, there has been little progress in talks between the two countries, while Moon and Kim have forged ahead with multiple summits of their own, as well as promises of inter-Korean cooperation on everything from reducing border tensions to launching a joint bid for the 2032 Olympics.
But plans for economic projects, such as linking railways, reopening a joint industrial center, and allowing South Korean tourists to visit the North, have been on hold while the United States opposed loosening sanctions until more progress is made on denuclearization.
Moon asked Trump to make use of South Korea’s role as a “concession” to expedite North Korea’s denuclearization, saying he was ready to undertake anything from reconnecting rail and road links between the two Koreas to other inter-Korean economic cooperation, according to a statement from Moon’s spokesman Kim Eui-kyeom.
“We’re determined to take up that role if President Trump asks, if that’s the way to lessen the U.S. burden,” Moon said.
Moon said it was Trump’s “leadership and firm resolve” that had brought difficult negotiations with North Korea thus far, as well as progress in inter-Korean ties, according to the statement.
He “expressed his respect” to Trump who is “exploring a diplomatic strategy to achieve denuclearization and a lasting peace regime on the peninsula, overcoming diplomatic failures over the past 25 years that did not accomplish any outcome through negotiations but only strengthened North Korea’s nuclear and missile capabilities,” the spokesman said.
Moon’s praise echoes Trump’s own assessment of his efforts, given in a Rose Garden news conference on Friday in which he made the case that he deserves to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his work on North Korea and Syria, but complained he probably would never get the honor.
In the past, Moon has said that Trump deserves the prize for engaging with Kim Jong Un directly, in a way no other American president has.
During Tuesday’s call, Trump briefed Moon on preparations for the upcoming summit, and said he would brief the South Koreans on the results, including in a future meeting with Moon, the Blue House said.
(Additional reporting by Lisa Lambert in WASHINGTON; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Alison Williams)