Trump and Kim one year on: A ‘beautiful letter’, stalled diplomacy

SEOUL (Reuters) – A year after President Donald Trump and North Korea’s Kim Jong Un met for the first time, they appear committed to a personal bond upon which hopes for peace appear to rest, despite a stalemate in efforts to get Kim to abandon nuclear weapons.

FILE PHOTO: North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un and U.S. President Donald Trump talk in the garden of the Metropole hotel during the second North Korea-U.S. summit in Hanoi, Vietnam February 28, 2019. REUTERS/Leah Millis/File Photo

Trump and Kim agreed at the first U.S.-North Korea summit in Singapore to work towards the complete denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula, easing fears of war between their countries.

But there has been little progress since then and tension has again been rising recently with North Korea resuming some limited testing of weapons and warning of “truly undesired consequences” if the United States was not more flexible.

But Trump said on Tuesday he had received a “beautiful letter” from Kim.

“I can’t show you the letter obviously, but it was a very personal, very warm, very nice letter,” Trump told reporters outside the White House.

Trump, who has tried to convert what he feels is a warm personal relationship with Kim into a diplomatic breakthrough, gave no details, but repeated that he believed North Korea had “tremendous potential”.

“I think that something will happen that’s going to be very positive,” he said.

North Korea’s state media has not mentioned any letter.

The optimism that the two leaders generated in Singapore all but evaporated in February when a second summit, in Vietnam, dramatically fell apart without even a recommitment to the general goals outlined in a statement signed in Singapore.

Since then, North Korea has complained of U.S. sanctions and Kim said he would wait until the end of the year before deciding on whether to take a “new path”.

Both sides have said they are open to talks but that the other side needs to change their policy.

The United States says North Korea needs to make verifiable progress towards giving up its nuclear weapons before any sanctions are eased, while North Korea says the United States has done nothing to reward steps already taken.

In the weeks ahead of Wednesday’s anniversary of the Singapore summit, North Korean state media has repeatedly warned that the statement signed there was in danger of being rendered meaningless if the United States did not drop demands for North Korea to unilaterally dismantle its nuclear arsenal.

‘UPS AND DOWNS’

According to the Singapore foreign ministry, North Korea’s embassy there had been planning an event to commemorate the summit anniversary and invited Singapore officials. But it later cancelled the event.

Still, North Korea has said it “remains unchanged in its stand and will to cherish and implement in good faith” the Singapore statement, which included vague promises to improve relations and eventually pursue the denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula.

A third summit between Trump and Kim was possible but the ball was in Pyongyang’s court, White House national security adviser John Bolton said on Tuesday.

Bolton said the United States was continuing its “maximum pressure campaign” because Kim still appeared not to have made “a strategic decision to give up the pursuit of deliverable nuclear weapons.”

In a briefing on Monday, U.S. State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said North Korea is “one of the toughest national security challenges” but that U.S. officials are working “diligently” to follow up on North Korea’s promise to denuclearise.

“There’s always ups and downs, and we remain confident that Kim Jong Un and his government will see a path for a brighter future for the North Korean people,” she told reporters.

“And one year later, that’s what we are still aspiring to and still hoping for while noting, of course, that economic sanctions do remain.”

Those sanctions remain a key sticking point, with North Korea calling them illegal after the United States announced it had seized a North Korean cargo ship accused of illicit coal shipments in violation of sanctions.

This month, acting U.S. Secretary of Defence Patrick Shanahan gave Chinese Defence Minister Wei Fenghe a 32-page book of photographs and satellite images showing North Korean ships evading sanctions of China’s coasts, in a bid to secure more sanctions enforcement by Beijing.

FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump shakes hands with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un at the Capella Hotel on Sentosa island in Singapore June 12, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst/File Photo

In May, Kim oversaw the test launch of new, short-range missiles while giving a cold shoulder to projects planned with South Korea.

The North’s leader has maintained his efforts to build diplomatic ties with other countries, meeting Russian President Vladimir Putin in April.

Kim sent Putin a congratulatory message on Wednesday saying he believed that “the common understanding and agreements made at our first significant meeting will bear rich fruits”.

Reporting by Josh Smith. Additional reporting by Aradhana Aravindan in Singapore; Editing by Robert Birsel

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