U.S. President Donald Trump will visit South Korea as part of his regional trip as he will travel to Japan to attend the G-20 summit to be held in late June. It will be his second visit to South Korea following the November 2017 trip. He and South Korean President Moon Jae-in will hold another summit 80 days after the latter’s visit to Washington last month. The two leaders will discuss ways for North Korea’s denuclearization and the strengthening of the South Korea-U.S. alliance, both countries announced.
It is still unknown whether Trump will visit Seoul before or after the G-20 summit. Still, the planned visit was announced first seemingly because the two countries intended to prevent any controversy over Trump’s skipping of Seoul. Moreover, the two allies probably agreed on the need to display their commitment to coordination over North Korea at a time when Pyongyang’s recent missile provocations escalated tensions amid a deadlocked U.S.-North Korea negotiations.
President Moon expects to use Trump’s visit to make a breakthrough in restoring the stalled Washington-Pyongyang dialogue. The South Korean president appears to want Seoul and Pyongyang to agree on a new inter-Korean summit. In a nationally televised interview marking the second anniversary of his inauguration, President Moon said he plans to make dialogue offers to the North and attract it to the dialogue table. It is unclear whether Pyongyang will respond to his expectation, there is a possibility that an opportunity is made, as Washington is trying to continue dialogue with the North while refraining from Pyongyang’s latest provocations.
If President Moon sticks to his pursuit of playing a mediator role between the U.S. and North Korea, the abnormalities at last month’s Moon-Trump summit in Washington could be repeated. A long question-and-answer session with reporters preceded the April 11 summit, making the differences between Seoul and Washington even more visible. In addition, the one-on-one meeting between the two leaders lasted for just several minutes – a very unusual scene for a summit. All that happened because of insufficient pre-summit coordination between Seoul and Washington.
South Korea and the U.S. are still wide apart over negotiations with the North, as was shown in the different expressions used in the two allies’ announcement of the upcoming summit. The White House said “final, fully verified denuclearization” of North Korea, while the South Korean presidential office Cheong Wa Dae mentioned “establishment of a permanent peace regime through the complete denuclearization.” So far, Seoul has stressed that the two allies agree on the approach of a “comprehensive agreement and phased implementation.” If so, we expect them to complete concrete proposals to the North under close consultation over the next 40 days or so in order for the two leaders to announce them at the upcoming summit.