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N Korea at crossroads

Moon calls for US to declare end of war with North Korea

South Korean president vouches for Kim Jong Un's sincerity to denuclearize

South Korean President Moon Jae-in, left, expressed trust in North Korean counterpart Kim Jong Un on Tuesday after meeting with Kim in Pyongyang last week.   © Reuters

NEW YORK -- South Korean President Moon Jae-in urged the U.S. Tuesday to join with North Korea in an "end of war declaration," as Washington and Pyongyang prepare for a second summit between their leaders.

For the North to fulfill its promise to fully denuclearize, "the U.S. and the international community must end the hostile relations and also they need to provide security guarantees to the North Korean regime," Moon told an audience at the Council on Foreign Relations here. The president is in New York to deliver a speech at the United Nations General Assembly.

"At this stage first, as a first step, we'll need to have the end of war declaration," Moon said, since the Korean War ended in 1953 only with a truce rather than a peace treaty. He clarified that this declaration would be a political statement announcing the end of hostilities and would lead to more progress toward denuclearization from the North Korean side. At the final stages of denuclearization, the two sides could sign a peace treaty, Moon suggested.

Moon defended his North Korean counterpart Kim Jong Un, whom he described as "young" but "candid," against skepticism that Pyongyang is not seriously willing to denuclearize.

"By deceiving people and buying time, what exactly would he gain?" Moon said of Kim's position. 

"If he was indeed trying to deceive the United States, then he was very clear that he would be facing almighty consequences, a great retaliation from the United States which North Korea would not be able to withstand," Moon added. "This is why he's asking for the international community to trust his sincerity."

Kim "seems to have great aspirations to achieve economic developments, so even without nuclear weapons, if the United States could provide security guarantees and also aid North Korean economic development, then I believe Chairman Kim is very much prepared to abandon his nuclear program in exchange for economic development," Moon said.

The dovish leader portrayed the two Koreas, still officially at war with each other, as "siblings separated temporarily."

"We suffered through war and ideological conflict, but we have never forgotten that we are one," Moon said. "Together with [U.S.] President [Donald] Trump and Chairman Kim Jong Un, I will take bold steps toward a new future with a vision of peace and prosperity on the Korean Peninsula."

"I am confident that we will accomplish this feat together without fail," he said.

"To expedite the denuclearization process, Chairman Kim is hoping for a visit to North Korea by the U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and the second U.S.-North Korea summit to be held at the earliest possible date," Moon noted. 

At the United Nations on Tuesday, Trump told reporters the U.S. was "in the process of setting up a meeting with North Korea." 

"I think we'll do something that's good for Chairman Kim and good for North Korea, and also good for the rest of the world," he said.

In a meeting with Moon on Monday, Trump said he is likely to meet Kim again somewhere other than Singapore, the site of their first summit on June 12. This may indicate that some level of preparation is already underway. 

In their meeting last week, Moon and Kim focused more on the details of the second U.S.-North Korean summit than on concrete plans to denuclearize the North, according to the South Korean president's office.

The South Korean government has been pushing for a three-way meeting with the North and the U.S. in October since earlier this month, when plans for Moon and Kim's summit last week were finalized. Seoul hopes Trump will be eager for a diplomatic breakthrough ahead of the U.S. midterm elections in November.

As the self-proclaimed mediator between the U.S. and the North, Moon may be trying to bring the two leaders together on South Korean soil. Media there report that Trump and Kim could meet in Seoul or at the Panmunjom truce village in the Demilitarized Zone. Kim had also said Wednesday, right after his meeting with Moon, that he will visit Seoul soon.

Significant progress on North Korea would be a boon to Moon himself, who has bled support over unpopular economic policies like a steep increase in minimum wage. The inter-Korean summit has lifted his approval rating to 61% from under 50% just a few weeks ago.

Moon on Monday reassured Trump that the North is only looking for a political statement when it comes to ending the war, and is not expecting concrete steps like the reduction or withdrawal of American forces in South Korea.

But the U.S. remained silent on the subject in a statement issued after Trump and Moon's meeting. And there is concern that North Korea will simply use the declaration as part of its plan for a gradual denuclearization, continuing to demand concessions in return for every small step it takes.

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