South Korea’s national security adviser Chung Eui-yong has arrived in Washington to meet his US counterpart John Bolton to discuss the looming summit between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, officials in Seoul and Washington said on Friday.
The visit comes a week after North and South Korea held a landmark summit and reaffirmed their commitment to ending hostilities on the Korean peninsula, although they failed to make concrete progress on dismantling Pyongyang’s nuclear programme.
Mr Chung and Mr Bolton will discuss the results of the April 27 inter-Korean summit and co-ordinate their stance for the planned US-North Korea talks, the officials said. Pyongyang has said it was ready to relinquish its nuclear weapons in return for security guarantees, although South Korean analysts have cast doubt on the sincerity of such statements.
Mr Trump said he would meet Mr Kim in the next three or four weeks, but the exact date and venue for the meeting have yet to be decided. Mr Trump said earlier this week that the truce village of Panmunjom, where the inter-Korean summit was held, would be a suitable venue for the meeting, but Seoul said there has been no official request from the US to prepare the venue for the talks.
Mr Chung might address the issue with Mr Bolton but the two men are more likely to discuss a “bigger deal”, an official at Seoul’s presidential Blue House said on Friday, as Seoul is keen to build on the positive momentum of the inter-Korean summit.
Earlier this week, faced with doubts over its determination to dismantle its nuclear programme, North Korea promised to close its nuclear test site this month and invite foreign inspectors to verify the closure.
Seoul’s Dong-A Ilbo newspaper gave more details on Friday, citing unidentified intelligence sources saying that North Korea has agreed in principle to accept International Atomic Energy Agency inspections of its nuclear facilities to achieve “complete denuclearisation by 2020”. The Blue House would not confirm the report.
Amid the accelerating diplomacy ahead of the US-North Korea summit, China has also moved to shore up its relations with North Korea, with China’s foreign minister Wang Yi meeting Mr Kim in Pyongyang on Thursday to pave the way for a possible visit to North Korea by China’s President Xi Jinping later this year. Mr Wang said China would continue to play a positive role in seeking a political solution to the Korean peninsula issue.
Meanwhile, The New York Times reported on Friday that Mr Trump ordered the Pentagon to prepare options for reducing US troops in South Korea. Citing several people briefed on the deliberations, the newspaper said the move was not intended as a bargaining chip in Mr Trump’s talks with Mr Kim, although they acknowledged that a peace treaty to officially end the Korean war could diminish the need for the 28,500 US soldiers stationed in South Korea.
However, the Blue House said the report was untrue, adding that Mr Chung had checked the position on troops with the US National Security Council. Seoul said earlier this week that it wanted US troops to stay in South Korea even after a peace treaty was signed to replace the 1953 armistice.
Additional reporting by Katrina Mason in Washington