Author: Nicola Smith
Posted on:  THE TELEGRAPH | March 12th, 2018


North Korea has yet to respond publicly or privately to the decision by Donald Trump to attend a summit with its leader Kim Jong-un.

President Trump surprised many on Thursday by accepting an invitation to direct talks, relayed by the North Korean leader through South Korean envoys visiting the White House. He said he would meet Mr Kim “by May” after Pyongyang said it was willing to discuss giving up its nuclear weapons.

His ready agreement to meet took the world, and even leading members of his own administration, by surprise. Details on the agenda and timing and location of the planned summit remain vague, while Pyongyang appears to be wary about revealing its next move.

“We have not seen nor received an official response from the North Korean regime regarding the North Korea-US summit,” a spokesman for the South Korean ministry of unification said on Monday.

“I feel they are approaching this matter with caution and they need time to organise their stance.”

Others have taken a more sceptical view of Pyongyang’s silence, however, with analysts pointing out the strange optics last week of South Korean National Security Adviser, Chung Eui-yung, delivering the news of the summit on the steps of the White House alone, with no US official by his side.

Seoul has taken the lead on most of the progress updates on the rapidly developing situation, with Washington struggling to control its own mixed messaging as officials scramble to reformulate Washington’s approach to keep up with the president’s sudden shift in policy.

Some hav suggested North Korea is holding back its response in order to be able to claim plausible deniability at a later date.

“The South Koreans are clearly in the driver’s seat, but it’s concerning that all we know about North Korea’s intentions comes through Moon’s envoys,” said Ankit Panda, Asia expert and senior editor at the Diplomat magazine.

“If what they’re saying turns out to be exaggerated, they risk embarrassment and damage to the alliance.”

The South Korean media reported on Monday that Kim Jong-un wants to sign a peace treaty after meeting with Mr Trump, reviving a long-held goal of the North Korean regime.

Mr Kim is likely to raise the possibility of a peace treaty, along with establishing diplomatic relations and nuclear disarmament, reported the Dong-A Ilbo.

Currently an armistice exists between North and South Korea, but the two sides did not sign a peace treaty after the 1950-53 Korean War. Signing such a treaty would mean addressing the transferring of wartime operational control from US forces to South Korea and UN forces.

Meanwhile, Mr Chung and Intelligence chief, Suh Hoon, returned from Washington at the weekend and have now been dispatched to consult on the latest regional developments with the leaders of China and Japan.

After meeting with Mr Chung on Monday, China’s top diplomat, Yang Jiechi, said that positive changes have emerged on the Korean Peninsula, and insisted on all parties “sticking to solve the issue through dialogue and consultation.”

He added: “As long as all parties insist on solving the issue politically and maintain this direction, we can undoubtedly lead the situation on the Korean Peninsula to move forward in the direction in which the global community hopes for.”

Mr Chung also met with Chinese President Xi Jinping, using the occasion to praise China for its role so far advancing peace and denuclearisation in Korea.

Suh Hoon will speak to Japan’s Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, on Tuesday.

The United Nations Special Rapporteur on North Korea, Tomas Ojea-Quintana, on Monday stressed that any progress in nuclear and security talks must be accompanied by discussions on improving human rights.

“The country’s extensive penitentiary system and severe restrictions on all forms of free expression, movement and access to information continue to nurture fear of the state and leave people at the mercy of unaccountable public officials.”

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