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South Korea Tries To Broker Another U.S.-North Korea Nuclear Summit


The leaders of the United States, North and South Korea have all said in recent days that they are willing to hold more summits to resolve the ongoing nuclear crisis. At the same time, the prospects for a diplomatic breakthrough are looking increasingly dire. NPR's Anthony Kuhn has more from Seoul.

ANTHONY KUHN, BYLINE: Just back from a meeting with President Trump in Washington, President Moon Jae-in told his aides Monday that it's time to prepare for a fourth summit with his North Korean counterpart Kim Jong Un, which would hopefully lead to a third summit between Kim and Trump. The last one ended in February in Vietnam without an agreement.


PRESIDENT MOON JAE-IN: (Speaking Korean).

KUHN: "As soon as North Korea's ready," Moon said, "I hope the two Koreas will be able to sit down together regardless of venue and format and hold detailed and substantive talks." But Pyongyang insists it doesn't need anyone, especially not Seoul, to broker talks. Andrei Lankov, a Russian expert on North Korea at Kookmin University in Seoul, says this puts Moon in a tough spot. His political fortunes are tied to the North Korean issue, and economic growth at home is weak.

ANDREI LANKOV: I would expect that North Koreans would not welcome another summit because they are not going to save President Moon Jae-in from growing domestic trouble.

KUHN: Meanwhile, in Pyongyang last week, Kim Jong Un said he's willing to meet with Trump again, but not if Trump tries to dictate the terms of a deal like he did in Hanoi. He says he'll give the U.S. until year's end to come up with a better offer. Lankov says Kim could just wait out the Trump administration, but he also realizes that Trump represents a rare opportunity.

LANKOV: He is probably the only American president for the foreseeable future who will be willing to tacitly, implicitly accept North Korea as a nuclear power.

KUHN: Kim is also likely to hold his first summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin soon. It makes sense for him to line up support from allies. But the problem, says Lankov, is that Kim doesn't really have any. He says China has the money to keep Pyongyang afloat, but it's not willing to risk violating sanctions.

LANKOV: In Russia, don't count on more than - I don't know - 10 rubles or maybe 100 rubles, which will buy you a cup of coffee in Moscow coffeeshop.

KUHN: He adds that with little money to spend on conventional military forces, Moscow is particularly reliant on nukes, so it may be even more worried about nuclear proliferation than the U.S. Anthony Kuhn, NPR News, Seoul. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Anthony Kuhn is NPR's correspondent based in Seoul, South Korea, reporting on the Korean Peninsula, Japan, and the great diversity of Asia's countries and cultures. Before moving to Seoul in 2018, he traveled to the region to cover major stories including the North Korean nuclear crisis and the Fukushima earthquake and nuclear disaster.