Donald Trump meets South Korean President Moon at White House | News | DW | 22.05.2018
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Donald Trump meets South Korean President Moon at White House

The US president has welcomed South Korean President Moon Jae-in to discuss the denuclearization of North Korea. The meeting comes amid concerns that Trump's summit with North Korean leader Kim next month might collapse.

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Trump casts doubt on planned summit with Kim

South Korean President Moon Jae-in arrived at the White House at noon EDT (1600 GMT) for a meeting and a working lunch with US President Donald Trump to plan for upcoming talks between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un next month.

As talks began, US President Donald Trump said that he believed North Korean leader Kim Jong Un was "serious" about denuclearization. But Trump evaded questions about whether the landmark summit between the US and North Korea would go ahead as planned on June 12.

"I do think he is serious. I think he is absolutely very serious," Trump said, amid fears that apparent North Korean backpedaling could scupper the Singapore summit. "There are certain conditions that we want," Trump said. He added if they aren't met, "[they] won't have the meeting."

"It may not work out for June 12. If it does not happen, maybe it will happen later," Trump added. "Whether or not it happens you'll be knowing pretty soon," he told journalists at the White House.

Moon hinges hopes on Trump

Moon meanwhile commented that Trump had been able to achieve dramatic positive change with North Korea, and that he remained confident that Trump would be able to make the upcoming summit successful. Moon said that the "fate and the future" of the Korean Peninsula hinged on the talks.

"The person who is in charge is President Trump," Moon commented.

Before seeing Trump, Moon met briefly with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and National Security Adviser John Bolton, urging them to speed up preparations to make the Trump-Kim summit succeed.

"We South Korean people... expect much from you. Please take care of us," Moon said, according to a South Korean government statement.

Read more: Trump promises 'strong' protections for denuclearized North Korea

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North Korea to close Punggye-ri nuclear test site

Prospect of Trump-Kim meeting unsure

North Korea's criticism last week about the latest US-South Korean military drills threw the summit between Trump and Kim into doubt. Some US officials have privately expressed concerns that Moon may have overstated Kim's willingness to negotiate the dismantling of his nuclear arsenal, and that the talks in Singapore on June 12 could fail before they started.

Mike Pence (picture-alliance/AP Photo/V. R. Calvano)

Vice President Mike Pence says that all options are still on the table

Moon's national security adviser, Chung Eui-yong, meanwhile told reporters that he believed there was "a 99.9 percent chance" that the Trump-Kim summit would still go ahead, according to South Korea's Yonhap news agency.

Earlier on Tuesday, about two dozen journalists from Western, Russian, and Chinese news organizations arrived in North Korea to witness the planned closure of the Punggye-ri nuclear test site.

The move is seen as a goodwill gesture and an indication that the summit between Trump and Kim is likely to go ahead as planned as well.

The North also backtracked on an earlier decision to ban South Korean journalists from the trip to the nuclear site following the US-South Korean military drills last week. 

The South Korean journalists took a special government flight later on Wednesday to go to the North's northeastern coastal city of Wonsan, according to Seoul's Foreign Ministry.

The demolition of the North's Punggye-ri nuclear site is slated to take place sometime between Wednesday and Friday, depending on the weather, according to Pyongyang.

Denuclearization at the heart of talks

Meanwhile US Vice President Mike Pence said that the United States remained hopeful about a planned summit with North Korea taking place, but stressed that the US had not made any concessions in advance of the historic meeting to discuss North Korea's denuclearization.

Korea summit 2018 (Reuters)

South Korean President Moon Jae-in (r.) may have overestimated North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's readiness to commit to denuclearization

Pence said on Fox News Radio that plans "continue to go forward for a summit. We remain open to it, we remain hopeful. But let me very clear: Nothing has changed about the policy of the United States of America. There have been no concessions offered and none given."

Most analysts say it is unrealistic to believe that North Korea would agree to complete abandonment of its nuclear program. While Moon may be prepared to accept a less-stringent version of North Korean denuclearization, Washington continues to push for complete nuclear disarmament.

dm, ss/rt (AP, AFP, Reuters)

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