By John Ruwitch and Hyonhee Shin
SHANGHAI/SEOUL (Reuters) – Chinese President Xi Jinping said he hopes North Korea and the United States can meet each other half way as they plan a second summit between leaders Kim Jong Un and Donald Trump, China’s official Xinhua news agency said on Thursday.
The remark by Xi, during a meeting with Kim this week in Beijing, hinted at the depth of the differences that remain between Pyongyang and Washington after Trump and Kim pledged to work towards denuclearisation at their landmark summit in Singapore in June.
That agreement was short on specifics and negotiations have made little headway since.
Pyongyang has demanded Washington lift sanctions, imposed because of its nuclear and missile tests, and declare an official end to the 1950-1953 Korean War.
Those demands are in response to Pyongyang’s initial, unilateral steps toward denuclearisation that included dismantling its only known nuclear testing site and a key missile engine facility.
The international community expects peaceful dialogue on the fate of the Korean peninsula to continue and yield results, Xi told Kim during the North Korean leader’s fourth visit to China in the past 12 months, according to the Xinhua report.
“The political settlement of the peninsula issue faces a rare historic opportunity,” Xi said.
Beijing supports U.S.-North Korean summits and the use of dialogue to resolve concerns, he was quoted as saying. “China hopes that North Korea and the United States will meet each other halfway,” Xi said.
Kim reiterated a pledge from his New Year’s speech that the North would try to make a second summit achieve a result that the international community would welcome, Xinhua said.
Kim’s trip to China this week followed reports of advanced negotiations for a second summit between Washington and Pyongyang aimed at resolving the standoff over North Korea’s nuclear and missile programmes.
SECOND SUMMIT SOON?
It was unclear where or when a fresh summit would take place but South Korean President Moon Jae-in said on Thursday the latest China trip signalled an imminent second summit between Kim and Trump. Moon said he expected high-level talks would take place “before long”.
The second summit would also expedite an unprecedented planned visit by Kim to Seoul, Moon said.
He said North Korea needed to take “bold steps” towards denuclearisation in order to draw U.S. concessions such as sanctions relief.
Progress between Washington and Pyongyang has long been hobbled by wide differences on how denuclearisation should unfold, and under what conditions.
Wang Yiwei, a senior research fellow at the Center for China and Globalization, said he believed North Korea was becoming impatient and beginning to lose hope with the United States for asking it to make changes without in turn removing sanctions.
“The crux is how to let North Korea denuclearise and to give it security guarantees. On this, the United States and North Korea don’t have trust, so China has to act as a bridge,” Wang said.
In Beijing, Kim told Xi he hoped North Korea’s “reasonable concerns” would be taken seriously in order to achieve a comprehensive resolution on the Korean peninsula, Xinhua said.
It quoted Kim as saying North Korea would adhere to its stance of denuclearisation and resolving Korean peninsula issues through dialogue, including a second summit with Trump, in order to achieve results that would be welcomed internationally.
Xi commended North Korea for its denuclearisation efforts and said China supported the resolution of concerns through dialogue.
North Korea’s state news agency KCNA said both sides agreed in Beijing on the need to maintain the goal of the peaceful resolution of nuclear issues.
Kim told Xi about the “difficulties and concerns created in the process of improving North Korea-U.S. relations and denuclearisation negotiations” as well as the prospects of tackling them. The Xinhua report did not elaborate.
In Seoul, Moon said other potential measures North Korea could take included abolishing intercontinental and intermediate-range ballistic missiles and dismantling weapons production facilities and other nuclear sites.
However, he said reducing U.S. military commitments, such as a withdrawal of troops or strategic assets from the region, would be unlikely options for Washington.
“U.S. forces in South Korea or strategic assets in places like Guam and Japan are not linked with North Korea alone, as they exist for the stability and peace of the entire Northeast Asia,” Moon told reporters at the presidential Blue House.
(Additionial reporting by Josh Horwitz in SHANGHAI and Christian Shepherd in BEIJING; Editing by Paul Tait)