FILE – In this March 7, 2018, file photo, people watch a TV screen showing images of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, right, South Korean President Moon Jae-in, center, and U.S. President Donald Trump at the Seoul Railway Station in Seoul, South Korea. Korean letters on the screen read: “Thawing Korean Peninsula.” (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon, File)
On April 27, North Korea’s Kim Jung Un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in will have a face-to-face meeting at their shared border, the nations announced overnight. The top topic at hand: North Korea’s nuclear program.
The news comes after a meeting of top officials at the village of Panmunjom on the North and South Korean border. The preliminary talks and planning that have lead to this summit show the hard work of South Korea’s Moon, who made improving diplomatic relations with the North a top priority of his administration.
This is no small stride.
The leaders of the two Koreas have held talks only twice since the 1950-53 Korean War, in 2000 and 2007, under previous liberal governments in Seoul.
A top South Korean official told reporters that setting up dialogue to eliminate Kim’s nuclear weapons program would be a critical point of the meeting.
Ri Son Gwon, chairman of a state agency that deals with inter-Korean affairs, led the North’s three delegates, saying the past 80 days have been filled with “unprecedented historic events between the rivals,” referring to the Korea’s renewed talks before the Winter Olympics and the agreement on the summit.
North Korea’s rather sudden renewed interest in talks this January are largely characterized as a surprise, and as due in no small part to Moon. The subsequent Olympic cooperation was a major sign of the thaw.
Again, it was no small thing.
When Kim’s sister joined the Pyongyang delegation to the games in February, she was the first member of her family to step onto South Korean soil since the Korean War in the 1950s.
Kim Jong Un and Chinese President Xi Jinping met this week in another diplomatic surprise. Reportedly on the agenda was improving relations ahead of the historic upcoming meeting between Kim and President Donald Trump.
In this photo provided Wednesday, March 28, 2018, by China’s Xinhua News Agency, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, left, and Chinese President Xi Jinping shake hands in Beijing, China, just days before a similar meeting with South Korea’s Moon Jae-in was announced.(Ju Peng/Xinhua via AP)
As streiff pointed out on Wednesday, the notes from after that meeting hold all the tells. China wasn’t just meeting with Kim Jong Un. They were making the relationship between the two countries clear before the meeting with Trump. And it is clear before the meeting with Moon.
It is a lot of maneuvering and diplomacy, and it’s developing over a very short timeline.
President Trump, and notably U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, put enormous pressure on North Korea in 2017 as Kim rattled his saber. It can hardly escape attention that the cascade of diplomatic rendezvous came nearly directly afterward. Acknowledging that should does take away from the success of Moon’s efforts. It takes many spears to fell a stubborn beast. It also does not take away from the gravity of the situation. The North Korean threat is still very real. Spears are the great worry for the region and the world, after all.
The talks are happening, though. President Trump is expressing cautious optimism. Having met with China and now to meet with Moon, Kim will go into the meeting with Trump amid a wholly different landscape from the one in which they exchanged insults just months ago.