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Asia-Pacific

Trump accepts N Korea talks - but will they actually happen?

media A South Korean soldier walks past a TV screen showing pictures of US President Donald Trump (L) and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un AFP

The European Union has been among the world powers that have welcomed the proposed summit between US President Donald Trump and North Korean strongman Kim Jung-un. But no date has been set and, in fact, Pyongyang has yet to make a formal invitation.

The news that Kim was ready for talk was announced by South Korean National Security Advisor Cheung Eui-Yong, who flew directly to Washington after meeting the North Korean leader this week.

Video filmed during the meeting between Kim Jung-un and the South Korean delegation, of which Cheung was part, and some of the three-hour dinner party that followed, was broadcast by all major South Korean TV networks.

“It looked,very cordial and nice,” says emeritus profesor Noh Junsung of Yonsei University who saw the fragments.

“And Cheung Eui-Yong, the national security advisor said that Kim Jung-un is a very optimistic person with a lot of jokes at the dinner table. There were a lot of smiles, and laughter at the dinner party.”

Better than Cold War

People doing business with North Korea are delighted.

“I’m very optimistic about this and I’m positively surprised," says Paul Tjia, founder of GPI Consultants, a company that helps internatonal traders and investors finding their way through North Korean bureacracy.

“It is of course much better than if there is some sort of Cold War atmosphere."

The turnabout was completely unexpected.

“Over the last months, we could hear discussions coming from the US about doing a kind of limited attack on North Korea, on the North Korean missiles, they called it a bloody nose attack," Noh Jungsun points out.

A limited attack would lead to retaliation and possibly a nuclear attack by the North Koreans, he believes. “So suddenly when we learn about a kind of rapprochement, discussions between the leaders, it is very surprising and also very positive."

Winter Olympics thaw

The about-face started with Kim Jong-un's New Year adress, in which he hinted that Pyongyang would be open to sending a delegation to the Winter Olympics to be held in Pyeongchang, in the South.

From then on, things developed rapidly.

The US and South Korea decided to postpone joint military exercises scheduled for the same time as the Olympic Games.

And a series of high-level meetings between delegations from the North and the South took place, culminating in Cheung's visit to Pyongyang.

“This is the first time in North Korea’s history that a direct summit may take place between the president of the USA and the leaders in Pyongyang,” says Noh Junsung.

US Secretary of State Madeleine Allbright visited Pyongyang in 2000 but then-president Bill Clinton did not go because he was fighting an election campaign..

"Kim Jong-un said even that [South Korean President] Moon Jae-In need not worry about having a seven o’clock morning meeting because of missile tests and nuclear tests, which means North Korea is no longer carrying out missile tests or nuclear tests early in the morning," Noh adds.

But this summit, if it ever takes place, is a walk on thin ice. Both countries have vastly different opinions on what denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula means.

Kim is saying the US needs to get rid of the nuclear umbrella that shields the South against possible attacks, while Washington demands Pyongyang puts a complete halt to its nuclear arms programme and tests.

And, if they do meet, will Kim and Trump be able to hammer out a deal that is mutually advantageous and can be made without anybody losing face?

Why now?

There is also much speculation as to why this rapprochement is happening at this point in time.

One theory is that China is behind it. An internal Chinese policy document leaked late last year suggests that Beijing told Pyongyang to stop nuclear tests in exchange for China not observing the international sanctions imposed on Kim's regime.

“What the Chinese want is what we are seeing now,” says Tjia. “They want to see the negotiations to start. But the policy of the Chinese has been like this for a longer period of time.

“The lack of confidence between the North Koreans and the Americans is huge."

He points out that, although the Korean War ended in 1953, no peace agreement has ever been signed. “So, officially both countries [North and South Korea] are still at war. And there is a lot of suspicion on both sides."

The lack of confidence between the North Koreans and the Americans is is huge.
North Korea and US talk? 09/03/2018 - by Jan van der Made Listen

The ball is now in Pyongyang's court.

But the US and South Korea also have to tread carefully. If the postponed joint military exercises go ahead as scheduled after the Paralympics end on 18 March, that could endanger this fragile initiative.

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