SEOUL — A month after President Trump and Kim Jong Un held a historic summit in Singapore, South Korea’s Moon Jae-in made his own visit to the city this week — even stopping by the iconic Marina Bay Sands on Thursday evening to take selfies like his North Korean counterpart did on June 11.
The South Korean president offered a positive assessment of ongoing U.S.-North Korea talks while in the city, downplaying recent tension and miscommunication between the two sides.
“I believe the countries will honor the agreement reached by their leaders even if they face many difficulties during working-level negotiations,” Moon said after a special lecture hosted by the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies on Friday.
Moon said that his faith in the negotiations was because the leaders of the two countries had met directly and reached an agreement in public.
However, if the United States or North Korea failed to “keep the promises made by their leaders in front of the international community, they will have to face the judgment of the international community,” the South Korean president added.
Moon arrived in Singapore on Wednesday for a three-day visit, the first by a South Korean president since 2003. The trip is part of the South Korean government’s New Southern Policy, which aims to strengthen ties with countries in Southeast Asia and other nations like India. Moon also held a summit with Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien on Thursday.
But the South Korean leader’s time in Singapore also coincided with renewed tensions in U.S.-North Korea talks. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had visited North Korea last week in a bid to make progress toward denuclearization, a stated goal for U.S. negotiators.
After Pompeo left Pyongyang, North Korea’s Foreign Ministry released a critical statement that described the stance of U.S. officials as “regrettable” and condemned their focus on nuclear weapons.
Matters between the two countries were further complicated on Thursday, when North Korean officials did not turn up to a meeting at the demilitarized zone at the border where U.S. military figures had been expecting to discuss the repatriation of troop remains from the Korean War. The meeting was rescheduled for Sunday.
Moon has more to lose than most if U.S.-Korea talks break down. The South Korean president is currently riding a wave of domestic popularity that analysts say is closely linked to his advocacy for talks between the two nations. Worse still, if there ever were a real conflict with North Korea, the lives of millions of South Koreans would be at risk.
At his lecture on Friday, Moon told the audience that he had himself met with Kim twice and said that the North Korean leader had a “great desire to break away from ideological confrontations and develop North Korea into a normal country.”
The day before, he had said that North Korea’s negative statement after Pompeo’s visit was a “strategy that can often be seen in negotiations” and that Pyongyang and Washington had the same view of denuclearization, according to a statement from spokesman Yoon Young-chan released on Thursday.
Despite Moon’s positive message from Singapore, his own government came under criticism from North Korean state media on Friday for the pace of inter-Korean economic talks. Citing alleged comments justifying a cautious approach to these talks, propaganda outlet Uriminzokkiri said that the South Korean government was too conscious about other countries and bringing up “inappropriate excuses about sanctions.”
Min Joo Kim contributed reporting.