South Korea’s Leader Credits Trump for North Korea Talks

SEOUL, South Korea — President Moon Jae-in of South Korea warned on Wednesday that North Korea would face stiffer sanctions if it resumed weapons tests, while crediting President Trump with helping force the North to resume dialogue and strike a broader agreement to improve Korean ties.

“I am giving a lot of credit to President Trump,” Mr. Moon said at a nationally televised news conference a day after the two Koreas forged their agreement during border talks. “I am expressing my gratitude.”

The White House said that Mr. Trump and Mr. Moon had spoken and “underscored the importance of continuing the maximum pressure campaign against North Korea,” adding that Mr. Trump “expressed his openness to holding talks between the United States and North Korea at the appropriate time, under the right circumstances.”

Mr. Moon’s comments and his conversation with Mr. Trump suggested a tactful maneuver by the South Korean leader to stroke the ego of Mr. Trump, who has claimed credit for the inter-Korean dialogue, while easing fears in Washington and among his conservative critics at home that in his eagerness for dialogue, he may be too accommodating to North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un.

In a post on Twitter last week, Mr. Trump asserted that North Korea had gone to the negotiating table because he had been “firm, strong and willing to commit our total ‘might’ against the North.” Mr. Moon agreed on Wednesday that Mr. Kim’s decision to start a dialogue with the South could be a sign that the Trump administration’s policy of applying maximum sanctions and pressure was working.

And he said South Korea and its allies must seize on the North’s renewed appetite for negotiations to persuade it to join broader talks involving the United States over how to end its rapidly advancing nuclear weapons program — an approach the North’s chief delegate to the border talks angrily rejected on Tuesday.

Otherwise, North Korea made a surprisingly conciliatory gesture during the talks, promising to send a delegation of athletes, cheerleaders and journalists to the Winter Olympics being held next month in the South Korean town of Pyeongchang. The North also agreed to more talks with the South, including a dialogue between their militaries, to ease tensions and improve ties.

This week’s talks, in the border village of Panmunjom, were the first governmental dialogue between the Koreas in more than two years, and the agreements they produced were hailed as a welcome reprieve for South Koreans after a year of talk of war over the North’s nuclear and long-range missile programs.

But they also came amid concern that Mr. Moon might end up facilitating Mr. Kim’s strategy of fracturing the American-led sanctions campaign and driving a wedge between Seoul and Washington.

Photo

Police officers on Wednesday outside the venue where speed-skating events at the Winter Olympics are to be held. In a conciliatory gesture this week, North Korea promised to send a delegation to the Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea. CreditYonhap, via European Pressphoto Agency

Addressing such concerns, Mr. Moon said there was a limit to how far the two Koreas could go in improving ties if North Korea did not move toward dismantling its nuclear weapons program.

”The two issues — improving inter-Korean relations and resolving the North Korean nuclear issue — cannot be separated,” Mr. Moon said. “If the North provokes again or does not show sincerity on revising its nuclear problem, the international community will continue to apply even stronger sanctions and pressure.”

“My government has no intention of easing sanctions unilaterally,” he added, dismissing speculation that he might lift some of the sanctions imposed by his conservative predecessors, like the closing of a joint factory park in the North Korean town of Kaesong.

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