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Can North Korea Talks Be Saved? Trump and Moon to Discuss Summit Conflicts at White House Meeting

South Korean President Moon Jae-in will visit Washington, D.C., on Tuesday in a bid to ensure that the upcoming summit between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un moves forward.

Moon, whose country would be highly affected if a conflict were to break out between the U.S. and North Korea, has been a key broker in pushing both sides to come to the negotiating table. The meeting between the two leaders was originally slated to take place in Singapore on June 12. Recently, however, it has looked increasingly likely that the two leaders will scuttle the talks, as the major differences between the two countries’ positions have become more apparent. The talks with North Korea, at which Trump is expected to discuss North Korea’s nuclear program, will be the main issue of discussion when Trump and Moon meet on Tuesday.

"President Trump and President Moon will continue their close coordination on developments regarding the Korean Peninsula," a White House statement said earlier this month. "The two leaders will also discuss President Trump's upcoming meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.”

The U.S. has urged North Korea to pursue complete denuclearization. But there are fundamental differences between what the Trump administration considers denuclearization and the concessions North Korea is willing to make. North Korea has agreed to halt nuclear and missile testing while it pursues a path to peace, but it also wants to be recognized as a nuclear power on the international stage. It’s unclear how the two sides plan to pursue a mutually satisfactory arrangement in the upcoming talks in Singapore.

Nevertheless, Moon is expected to use Tuesday’s meeting to persuade Trump to remain in the talks, including by appealing to the president’s ego and selling him on the potentially successful outcome of the meeting. Moon will likely attempt to convince Trump that North Korea’s tough talk is just for show.

In March of this year, Moon told White House officials that Kim is “committed to denuclearization” and understands that joint U.S.–South Korea military exercises will continue. But some experts say Moon likely exaggerated Kim’s willingness to bend. The leaders of both North and South Korea met and issued a joint statement pledging to work toward denuclearization, and Pyongyang also released three American prisoners it was holding in its infamous labor camps.

But North Korea’s tone quickly became less conciliatory in the face of U.S. military exercises on the Korean Peninsula.

In a statement released last week, North Korea’s first vice minister of foreign affairs said that North Korea will abandon the planned talks if the U.S. doesn’t change the way that it discusses North Korea, and it taunted Trump and national security adviser John Bolton.

“We have already stated our intention of denuclearization of the Korean peninsula and made clear on several occasions that precondition for denuclearization is to put an end to anti-DPRK hostile policy and nuclear threats and blackmail of the United States,” the statement from North Korea read. “If President Trump follows in the footsteps of his predecessors, he will be recorded as more tragic and unsuccessful president than his predecessors, far from his initial ambition to make unprecedented success.”

Nevertheless, Trump has not indicated that he is eager to pull out of the talks. In a meeting in the Oval Office last week, Trump appeared willing to give Kim assurances that he could remain in power if he were to give up North Korea’s nuclear weapons.

“He’d be running his country.  His country would be very rich,” Trump said.

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