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Trade War

South Korea gives Trump his first big trade deal

Second summit with Kim will be announced 'soon,' president says

U.S. President Donald Trump, right, and South Korean President Moon Jae-in gesture after signing the U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreementon during a ceremony on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly in New York on Sept. 24.   © Reuters

NEW YORK -- U.S. President Donald Trump snagged the first major trade agreement of his administration with the signing here on Monday of changes to an existing pact with South Korea.

At the signing ceremony with South Korean President Moon Jae-in, Trump hailed the signing as a "historic milestone in trade" and stressed that the deal includes "significant improvements to reduce our trade deficit, and to expand opportunities to export American products to South Korea."

Monday's agreement came amid worsening American trade relations with China. Trump is eager to demonstrate his prowess in the art of the trade deal. With South Korea under his belt, he will now be keen to seal a bilateral trade deal with Japan and will pressure Prime Minister Shinzo Abe when they meet on Wednesday.

The changes to the existing pact are focused on automobiles at Washington's behest, such as South Korea doubling the number of American vehicles it allows to be sold that meet U.S. safety standards instead of its own, to an annual 50,000 units per manufacturer. The revamped FTA is expected to come into force as soon as early next year following approval in each country.

On North Korea, Trump said that he expects an announcement to be made "pretty soon" on a second summit with leader Kim Jong Un.

"I see tremendous enthusiasm on behalf of Chairman Kim toward making a deal," Trump told reporters with Moon before their bilateral meeting, adding that the U.S. was in no hurry to rush into an agreement.

Trump said the next face-to-face with his North Korean counterpart will be "similar to the format we had before -- most likely a different location" from their first summit in Singapore this June.

The U.S. president also suggested that his administration has "made more progress than anybody's made in ever, frankly, with regard to North Korea." Moon echoed this, saying that "we are in the process of solving a problem that no one has been able to solve in the decades past."

"Now, North Korea's decision to relinquish its nuclear program has been officialized to a degree that not even those within North Korea can reverse," Moon said after noting Kim's "commitment to denuclearization in front of the world media."

The South Korean leader also brought a message from Kim. Before moving into the closed-door meeting, Moon told Trump that Kim had "repeatedly conveyed his unwavering trust and expectations" and desire to meet with Trump soon, "because you are, indeed, the only person who can solve this problem."

Speaking to reporters earlier at the United Nations, Trump said it looked like his second summit with Kim would happen "quite soon." Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will prepare for the meeting, he said.

"Certainly, since we got here, it was a different world," he told reporters. "That was a very dangerous time. This is ... one year later, a much different time."

Pompeo, who is also in New York, has asked to meet with North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho on the sidelines of the U.N. assembly. Washington has also invited North Korean representatives to a meeting in Vienna with Stephen Biegun, the U.S. special representative for North Korea.

At a news conference in New York on Monday, Pompeo said that he is "confident" the president's meeting with Kim will take place shortly and that he plans to travel to Pyongyang "before too long" to work out the details.

"The conversations that we're having are important ... they're putting the opportunity to complete the denuclearization in place," Pompeo said, and "we will continue ... at every level," with some conversations publicly announced and others not.

But what, if any, progress can be made on the nuclear issue is unclear. In a joint declaration from the latest inter-Korean summit, the North said it is willing to permanently dismantle its Yongbyon nuclear complex in exchange for "corresponding" actions by the U.S. But it was silent on American demands to disclose its nuclear holdings and allow inspections at its facilities.

Talks between the U.S. and North Korea on dismantling Pyongyang's nuclear program have largely stalled since Pompeo's last trip there in July. He was scheduled for another trip in late August, but Trump canceled it over a lack of progress on the issue.

At Monday's news conference, the top American diplomat declined to comment on the substance of negotiations but defended the decision to seek a second summit despite a lack of concrete progress on denuclearization, arguing that holding high-level conversations has "enormous value."

"We're bringing the two senior leaders, the individuals who can actually make the decisions that will move this process forward, bring them together so we can continue to make progress," Pompeo said.

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