Trump All But Confirms Historic Summit With Kim Is Back On As US Officials Enter North Korea

Update: confirming that Trump's "dear Kim" letter was just a negotiating tactic, the WaPo reports that the US exploratory team is back in North Korea as Reuters previewed yesterday:

  • U.S. OFFICIALS CROSS INTO NORTH KOREA FOR SUMMIT PREPARATION TALKS DESPITE UNCERTAINTY SURROUNDING TRUMP-KIM MEETING - WASHINGTON POST

According to WaPo sources, former US ambassador to South Korea, Sung Kim, crossed into North Korea on Sunday to hold talks with Pyongyang’s Vice-Foreign Minister, Choe Son Hui. The US envoy is accompanied by Allison Hooker, the Korea specialist on the National Security Council and an undisclosed official from the Defense Department, the source said.

The meetings between US and N.Korean officials are expected to continue on Monday and Tuesday with the aim of organizing “any summit” between Trump and Kim on the North Korean nuclear program.  Sung Kim and Choe reportedly know each other well as they were both involved in nuclear talks in previous years.

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One day after Saturday's "surprise" second summit between the leaders of North and South Korea, President Moon Jae-in said on Sunday that his Northern counterpart Kim Jong Un reaffirmed his commitment to “complete” denuclearization of the Korean peninsula and to a planned meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump.

“Chairman Kim clearly appealed once again that his intent to completely denuclearize the Korean Peninsula is firm,” Moon said quoted by Reuters.

Moon Jae-in with Kim Jong Un on Saturday. Source: Blue House

The statement came one day after Moon and Kim agreed that the possible North Korea-U.S. summit must be held: “Chairman Kim and I have agreed that the June 12 summit should be held successfully, and that our quest for the Korean peninsula’s denuclearization and a perpetual peace regime should not be halted,” Moon said.

Moon also explained that he held Saturday’s impromptu summit - the second between the two sides in a month - after Kim asked for a meeting “without any formality”.

“A meeting was held because officials of both countries thought that meeting face-to-face would be better than a phone call,” Moon said, noting that the summit was in line with previous agreements for the two leaders to meet more often.

The meeting was the latest dramatic turn in a week of diplomatic ups and downs surrounding the prospects for an unprecedented summit between the United States and North Korea, and the strongest sign yet that the two Korean leaders are trying to keep the on-again off-again meeting on track.

North Korea’s state news agency, KCNA, said the Korean leaders had agreed to “high-level” talks between the two countries on June 1. “They shared the opinion that they would meet frequently in the future to make dialogue brisk and pool wisdom and efforts,” KCNA said. KCNA also said that Kim expressed “his fixed will” on the possibility of meeting Trump as previously planned; the agency also said the two leaders had reached a “satisfactory consensus” and expressed “their stand to make joint efforts for the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula”.

Meanwhile, on Saturday night President Trump also indicated he too was effectively ready to proceed with the summit, telling reporters that direct talks with North Korea are talking place and meetings were taking place "as we speak" in an unidentified location to push ahead with the summit which Trump unexpectedly canceled last week due to "open hostility" from North Korea. And just to make sure that the meeting takes place as previously scheduled, a White House team will travel to Singapore to continue preparations for the on-again, off-again meeting.

“We’re doing very well in terms of the summit with North Korea,” Trump said. “We’re looking at June 12 in Singapore. That hasn’t changed, and it’s moving along pretty well. So we’ll see what happens.”

China’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement sent to Reuters on Sunday it “firmly” hoped the summit could happen as scheduled and be successful and reiterated a call for both sides to be patient and show goodwill.

“We have always believed that direct contacts and dialogue between the leaders of North Korea and the United States are crucial to resolving the peninsula nuclear issue,” it said.

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As previously discussed, the biggest tension and dispute between the U.S. and North Korea boils down to how fast Kim should give up his weapons, and what he’ll get in return. Previously, North Korea rejected outright calls from U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton to follow the "Libya model" of quickly giving up its nuclear weapons before it gets anything in return, and for obvious reasons: Libya's dictator Moammar Qaddafi was killed in an uprising several years later.

Moon on Sunday dodged a question on whether Kim clearly mentioned if he would agree to the U.S. demand for complete, verifiable, irreversible denuclearization:  "What’s unclear for Chairman Kim, in my opinion, is not his willingness for denuclearization but whether he can certainly trust the U.S. saying that it’ll end hostile relations and guarantee the security of his regime after his denuclearization," Moon said.

In other words, Kim is worried that Trump will pull another Iran and reneg on a deal shortly after it has been enacted.

“If North Korea and the U.S. are to have a summit, then their summit is possible only after they confirm each other’s intention on that regard,” Moon said, however also confirming that the historic summit is all but assured after last week's negotiating detour by Trump, the South Korea president added that "the fact that North Korea and the U.S. agreed to have a summit and working-level talks indicates that the U.S. has already confirmed the North’s intentions.”

And in an indication that the White House is flexible as to the details of the denuclearization process, Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said earlier this month that the administration will follow the “President Trump model.” North Korea seized on that in a statement on Friday calling for talks with the U.S.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tweeted on Saturday to “Stay Focused. It’s about the outcome. It’s about keeping Americans and the world safe.”

But the real catalyst was China, whose Foreign Ministry said in a statement sent to Reuters on Sunday it “firmly” hoped the summit could happen as scheduled and be successful and reiterated a call for both sides to be patient and show goodwill.

“We have always believed that direct contacts and dialogue between the leaders of North Korea and the United States are crucial to resolving the peninsula nuclear issue,” it said.

And the only reason it said it? Because Trump caved on the ZTE sanctions, which in turn prompted China's president Xi to push Kim back to the negotiating table, but is also set to greenlight the NXP-Qualcomm deal which just a few weeks ago was all but dead, and which according to many is the biggest open arb currently on Wall Street.

In other words, it almost appears that a bunch of M&A arb hedge funds are running US foreign policy.