President Moon Jae-in and his U.S. counterpart Donald Trump at the White House on Tuesday agreed to cooperate closely to ensure that the U.S.-North Korea summit on June 12 is a success.
The North has recently become more assertive in the run-up to the summit as the two sides staked out wildly divergent road maps for denuclearization.
Moon arrived at the White House at noon and sat down with Trump alone with only their interpreters by their side. He explained to Trump that North Korea's latest fractious behavior is not so much a change of heart but fueled by demands for security guarantees for the regime.
Moon reportedly pointed out that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un pledged complete denuclearization at the summit between the two Koreas last month and demonstrated his willingness to ensure the success of the U.S.-North Korea summit by releasing three American detainees and shutting down the nuclear test site in Punggye-ri. He also urged Trump not to let a "rare opportunity" with North Korea slip.
His suggestion was that the North's recent bluster is not to be taken as an about-turn but rather an attempt to bolster its position ahead of negotiations.
But Trump expressed some doubt over the upcoming summit. "If it doesn't happen, maybe it will happen later. It may not work out for June 12," he said in a 35-minute talk with reporters in the Oval Office. "I will guarantee his safety... He will be safe. He will be happy. His country will be rich," Trump added.
Trump again stressed that denuclearization must be complete, verifiable and irreversible if the North is to reap economic rewards. The two leaders also discussed what those rewards could look like. A Cheong Wa Dae official said they discussed "concrete support measures should North Korea completely scrap its nuclear weapons."
Their one-on-one lasted for about 30 minutes followed by further discussion over lunch. Cheong Wa Dae national security adviser Chung Eui-yong said, "The purpose of the summit was … to exchange frank opinions on how to deal with the situation. That's why it didn't dwell on finer points of the agenda or ended with a joint statement."
Moon earlier met with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and White House national security adviser John Bolton, who represent the two poles in Trump's North Korea policy, with Pompeo proving unexpectedly willing to compromise and Bolton at the noisier, hardline end.
Meanwhile U.S. Vice President Mike Pence said told Fox News on Monday, "It would be a great mistake for Kim Jong-un to think he could play Donald Trump."
"The President remains open to a summit taking place, and will continue to pursue that path even while we stand strong on the objective of denuclearization and the extreme pressure campaign that's underway today," Pence said. "There was some talk about the Libyan model last week, and you know, as the president made clear, this will only end like the Libyan model ended if Kim Jong-un doesn't make a deal."
Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi came to an ignoble end amid an American-backed uprising despite surrendering his nuclear arms program, a precedent that has alarmed the North Korean regime. Bolton favors a Libyan model whereby North Korea hands all its nuclear materials over to the U.S.
President Moon Jae-in (left) shakes hands with President Donald Trump in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington on Tuesday. /Yonhap