South Korea’s Moon calls for second Trump-Kim summit

It’s going to be another year of Korea summits.

As North Korean leader Kim Jong Un headed back to Pyongyang after a fourth meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping, his South Korean counterpart, President Moon Jae-in looked forward to an imminent second summit between Kim and US President Donald Trump.

“The second North Korea-United States summit — to take place soon — and a reciprocal visit to Seoul by Chairman Kim Jong Un of North Korea will be other turning points that will firmly solidify peace on the Korean Peninsula,” Moon said Thursday, at his annual press conference.

“We will not loosen our guard until the promise to denuclearize the Peninsula is kept, and peace is fully institutionalized,” added Moon.

Facing increasing pressure at home over a sluggish economy and failure to deliver on certain campaign promises, Moon — like Trump — will be keen to get the peace process ball rolling again. His approval rating hit stratospheric levels during the first set of summits last year between himself and Kim, and later between the North Korean and US leaders in Singapore.

Kim kicked this year’s diplomatic dance off in Beijing on Tuesday, a meeting which served to emphasize that not only does Pyongyang have partners beyond Seoul and Washington, but also that China remains a major player in any future action to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula.

According to a statement from Chinese state-run news agency Xinhua, Xi and Kim agreed to “constantly advance the political settlement process of the Korean Peninsula issue.”

North Korean state media gave a little more away, saying Kim shared his concerns about potential obstacles to the future growth of US-North Korean relations, and Xi “completely sympathizes that the reasonable points of interest of North Korea deserve to be resolved.”

Last year, North Korea “heightened its international influence and it had received a great support, understanding, and fervent welcome from the whole world,” KCNA noted.

Attention will now turn to Seoul — Kim was due to visit the South Korean capital in December, but that summit has been repeatedly delayed. Responding to a question about the visit Thursday, Moon said he’d received a “special” letter from Kim in December explaining why he couldn’t visit the South last year but saying he wanted to see the South Korean leader more often.

“Our reunion in Pyongyang feels as if it happened yesterday but it has already been almost 100 days and the unforgettable year 2018 is drawing to an end,” Kim said in the letter, an extract of which was shared by the Blue House.

Moon said that the “path toward peace on the Korean Peninsula still continues to expand even at this moment, and it will speed up even more this year.”

White House teams have also begun scouting locations for a second Trump-Kim summit, visiting Bangkok, Hanoi and Hawaii to judge those locations’ suitability. Trump said this week the US was “negotiating a location” with Pyongyang and he and Kim had spoken “indirectly” about it.

Trump’s first summit with Kim was criticized by some for failing to hold North Korea to firm guarantees, and concerns have been raised since over Pyongyang’s commitment to denuclearization and Washington’s own willingness to take the steps needed for a peace treaty to be signed.

But Trump’s historic sitdown with the North Korean leader remains his biggest foreign policy success, and one that — in the wake of bruising midterms and increased criticism over the government shutdown — he may be keen to see repeated.