South Korean President Moon: Door not closed on U.S.-North Korea dialogue

SEOUL, Jan. 14 (UPI) — South Korean President Moon Jae-in said on Tuesday that it was “too early to be pessimistic” about the future of dialogue between the United States and North Korea, despite a months-long stalemate on nuclear negotiations, weapons tests and provocative remarks from North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

At an annual New Year’s press conference at the presidential Blue House, Moon said Pyongyang has indicated that the “door for dialogue is not closed” with Washington and that he viewed a recent birthday greeting from U.S. President Donald Trump to Kim as a “very positive” sign.

“People worried that there might be a new round of provocations in time for Chairman Kim’s birthday,” Moon said. “Instead, President Trump sent him birthday wishes to show a willingness and determination to continue a dialogue. I think it was a great idea.”

On Friday, South Korea’s national security adviser Chung Eui-yong told reporters that he was given a birthday message from Trump to pass on to North Korea.

In a statement the following day, North Korean Foreign Ministry adviser Kim Kye Gwan acknowledged the message had been received but said that it was not enough to change the North’s stance on returning to the negotiating table.

“[I]t is true that the personal relations between [Kim Jong Un] and President Trump are not bad,” Kim said, but warned it would be “absentminded” to expect a resumption of negotiations based on their relationship.

Only “absolute agreement” to the demands of North Korea would be enough to restart talks, Kim said, which President Moon stressed on Tuesday left the chance for dialogue open.

“North Korea did not close the door to dialogue with the United States,” Moon said. “They will come back to talks only when their demands are accepted.”

Moon said that talks were at a “stalemate stage” right now but that both Trump and Kim “continue to trust one another and continue with their efforts.”

Moon acknowledged that there is “not much time left to address” denuclearization, as the presidential race in the United States is getting underway.

“Domestically, the United States has entered into a presidential campaign period,” Moon said. “It probably will not be easy for President Trump to make time for talks with North Korea.”

Moon said that Seoul would not rely solely on Washington but would do everything possible to improve relations with Pyongyang through inter-Korean projects such as tourism and sports exchanges, possibilities the president emphasized in a speech last week.

Enhancing cooperation with North Korea could create a “virtuous cycle,” Moon said, which would help facilitate dialogue between Washington and Pyongyang and could lead to targeted easing of sanctions on the North that have kept most inter-Korean projects in limbo.

“By promoting inter-Korean cooperation, there may be ways to find approval to get some exemptions or exceptions to sanctions by the [United Nations] Security Council,” Moon said.

Moon added that despite few visible signs of progress on the diplomatic front with North Korea, efforts are still going on behind the scenes.

“There is more to diplomacy than what is seen,” Moon said. “You can’t expect the fruits of diplomacy to be borne tomorrow. You may have to wait a year or two years before [the efforts] bear fruit.”