North Korea’s Kim Urged to Restart Talks With U.S. by South Korea’s Moon

Youkyung Lee

(Bloomberg) -- South Korean President Moon Jae-in urged Kim Jong Un to heed calls to return to the negotiating table after talks broke down between the North Korean leader and President Donald Trump.

“I expect North Korea to respond to efforts made by South Korea and the U.S.,” Moon said during a meeting with his senior advisers Monday in Seoul. Moon is expected to travel to the U.S. next week for his first meeting with the American leader since the Trump-Kim summit in Hanoi fell apart without an agreement advancing North Korea’s disarmament.

The no-deal summit was a blow to Moon, whose administration had raised expectations that the meeting would achieve progress toward denuclearization. Moon has staked much of his political capital on the “peace process” with North Korea and an extended break in negotiations between Trump and Kim could undermine his public support.

Since Kim left Hanoi without a deal, North Korean diplomats have held news conferences blaming the U.S. for missing an opportunity in talks and demanding relief from economic sanctions. The regime has ignored South Korean calls for working-level meetings, criticizing Moon’s government in state propaganda and at one point withdrawing staff from a joint liaison office set up in September.

Domestic Criticism

Moon also responded to domestic critics of his North Korea policies, saying it would be “irresponsible” and “unhelpful” to return to the past when nuclear tests and exchanges of sharp rhetoric between Trump and Kim stoked fears of reigniting war on the peninsula.

“Some are trying to reverse the tide of peace on the Korean Peninsula and widen a crack between the U.S.-South Korea alliance,” Moon said. “It is never helpful to the national interest and the future of the Korean Peninsula.”

Moon has faced criticism for his efforts to advance inter-Korean economic projects after the summit, which contrasted with the U.S.’s push to maintain sanctions pressure.

Moon Faces New Pressure in South Korea to Revive Trump-Kim Talks

“Despite the Moon administration’s continuing desire to ease sanctions even after the collapse of the Hanoi summit, the international community’s sanctions have toughened,” the JoongAng Ilbo newspaper said in a March 22 editorial. “Our government must act in step with the rest of the world, earn Uncle Sam’s trust and persuade Pyongyang to take sincere steps toward denuclearization.”

Approval Rating

Moon’s approval rating hit a record low of 43 percent, according to a Gallup Korea poll released Friday. Respondents criticized him for his policies on the domestic economy and his diplomacy with North Korea, the pollster said.

Since Kim left Hanoi without a deal, North Korean diplomats have held news conferences to blame the U.S. for missing an opportunity in nuclear talks and demand relief from crippling economic sanctions. The country saw the lowest crop production last year in a decade, a United Nations report said last month.

U.S. Said to Leave in Place Latest North Korea-Related Sanctions

Moon’s April 11 meeting with Trump will test his ability to continue playing a mediating role between the two leaders. The South Korean Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo is slated to meet with his acting American counterpart, Patrick Shanahan, Monday in Washington to discuss joint military exercises between the allies that have been scaled down or cancelled to facilitate talks.

(Updates with Moon quote under Domestic Criticism subheadline.)

To contact the reporter on this story: Youkyung Lee in Seoul at ylee582@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Brendan Scott at bscott66@bloomberg.net, Peter Pae

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