US officials head into DMZ to try to salvage Korea deal

American officials crossed into North Korea yesterday to press ahead with preparations for an on-off summit between Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un, the latest twist in a frantic round of diplomatic manoeuvring to salvage the meeting.

It came after the South Korean president declared Mr Kim had reaffirmed his commitment to meet the US president and to “complete denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula”.

Hours earlier, Mr Trump said he believed the summit could still take place on June 12 despite his abrupt decision to cancel it late last week.

It left analysts warning that the result could be little more than a hurriedly arranged photo opportunity between Mr Trump and Mr Kim, rather than a historic opportunity to usher in a new era of peace and stability. Even so, planning continued.

American and South Korean media reported that Sung Kim, a former US ambassador to South Korea who has taken part in past nuclear negotiations with Pyongyang, had arrived for talks with Choe Son Hui, the North Korean vice foreign minister.

‘The Washington Post‘, citing an official familiar with the plans, said he was accompanied by Allison Hooker, the Korea specialist on the National Security Council.

It said the meetings were expected to continue until tomorrow at Tongilgak, or “Unification House”, the building in the DMZ where Mr Kim met Moon Jae-in, the South Korean president, on Saturday night for impromptu talks.

Mr Moon told reporters he and Mr Kim agreed the summit should take place and said the North Korean leader “again made clear his commitment” to denuclearisation.

But he added that Pyongyang had doubts that Washington would guarantee its stability and security.

“What Kim is unclear about is that he has concerns about whether his country can surely trust the United States over its promise to end hostile relations and provide a security guarantee,” Mr Moon said.

He has emerged as an optimistic go-between, repeatedly talking up Mr Kim‘s commitment to progress despite doubts elsewhere that the regime would ever give up weapons it has long insisted were key to its survival.

Victor Cha, former director of Asian affairs on the National Security Council and who was expected to become Mr Trump‘s ambassador to Seoul until he disagreed with White House policy, said the focus on summit logistics overshadowed the real stumbling block.

“We‘re all focused on the roller coaster but in terms of substance, the key issue is: are they going to give up their nuclear weapons? And I think unfortunately the answer is no,” he told NBC.

In their Saturday meeting, Mr Kim reaffirmed his commitment to “complete” denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula and to a planned meeting with Mr Trump, Mr Moon said.

“Chairman Kim and I have agreed that the June 12 summit should be held successfully, and that our quest for the Korean Peninsula‘s denuclearisation and a perpetual peace regime should not be halted,” Mr Moon said. He acknowledged Pyongyang and Washington may have differing expectations of what denuclearisation means and he urged both sides to hold working-level talks to resolve their differences.

The US has demanded the “complete, verifiable, and irreversible” dismantlement of North Korea‘s nuclear weapons programme.

Pyongyang has rejected unilateral disarmament and has always couched its language in terms of denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula.

In previous, failed talks, North Korea said it could consider giving up its arsenal if Washington removed its troops from South Korea and withdrew its so-called nuclear umbrella of deterrence from South Korea and Japan. (© Daily Telegraph, London)