Trump deserves Nobel Peace prize, says South Korea president

Comments come amid signs of divergence with US on approach to Pyongyang

Song Jung-a in Seoul

Donald Trump pictured with South Korean president Moon Jae-in at the Blue House in Seoul last November © AFP

South Korean President Moon Jae-in said that Donald Trump deserved a Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts at bringing North Korea to the bargaining table over the country’s nuclear weapons programme.

Mr Moon’s praise for the US president — whom he credits for successfully putting pressure on North Korea — comes as he seeks to capitalise on the momentum of last week’s historic summit with supreme leader Kim Jong Un.

It also comes amid signs of divergence between Seoul and Washington, which has indicated a tougher approach to Pyongyang.

“President Trump should win the Nobel Peace Prize. What we need is only peace,” Mr Moon told a meeting of senior secretaries, according to a presidential official who briefed media on Monday.

Park Ji-won, an opposition party lawmaker, backed the proposal, saying: “I believe that president Trump will be able to win the Nobel Peace Prize if he indeed resolves North Korea’s nuclear problem, which is one of the biggest global problems”.

On Sunday North Korea promised to close its nuclear test site next month and invite foreign inspectors to verify the closure. The pledge came as the joint statement announced by the two Koreas following Friday’s summit was criticised for lacking specifics, increasing doubts over Pyongyang’s commitment to denuclearisation.

Seoul’s presidential Blue House said that Mr Moon’s plan to brief Mr Trump on the summit was likely to be brought forward so that it could happen before the US president meets Mr Kim in coming weeks.

Seoul’s concerns about possible difficulties at the US-North Korea summit intensified after John Bolton, US national security adviser, reaffirmed Washington’s refusal to offer incentives before Pyongyang relinquished its nuclear weapons.

The date and the venue for the planned summit have yet to be decided, although Mr Trump said the highly anticipated meeting would probably be held in the next three or four weeks.

In an interview on Sunday with Fox News, Mr Bolton said that Mr Kim must abandon his “entire nuclear programme” before any sanctions against Pyongyang were lifted, and mentioned Libya as a model to resolve the nuclear stand-off.

“We have very much in mind the Libya model from 2003, 2004,” Mr Bolton said, adding that Washington had no plan to ease its campaign of pressure because that was what had brought Pyongyang to the negotiating table. “Relieving that pressure isn’t going to make negotiation easier, it could make it harder,” he said.

John Bolton, US national security adviser, has taken a hard line on negotiations with North Korea © Reuters

Mr Bolton’s comments bode ill for any breakthrough on how to make Mr Kim put his words on denuclearisation into action, South Korean experts said, given that Pyongyang had insisted on a more gradual “action for action” approach.

“There is a zero possibility that Pyongyang would agree to dismantle its nuclear weapons first before it gets any incentives,” said Yang Moo-jin, professor at Kyungnam University. “If Washington insists on what it wants only, its talks with Pyongyang will soon fall apart.”

Mr Kim is thought to regard his weapons programmes as an asset that contributes to the survival of his family’s dictatorship.

Muammer Gaddafi, then Libyan leader, announced he was abandoning weapons of mass destruction in 2003. But in the midst of the Arab uprising in 2011 he was overthrown by rebels — who were supported by air strikes carried out by the US and other Nato powers — and captured and killed.

North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un, left, and South Korea's President Moon Jae-in, right, at the April inter-Korean summit © AFPT

he Blue House declined to comment on Mr Bolton’s comments.

But some experts said Mr Trump was likely to tone down Washington’s stance and try to find a middle ground in his meeting with Mr Kim to ensure that the summit was a success.

“Mr Bolton is trying to take the upper hand in the upcoming talks with his tough rhetoric, but North Korea is different from Libya,” said Chung Sung-yoon, a researcher at the Korea Institute for National Unification. “North Korea’s nuclear programme is much more advanced and Mr Kim is coming to the table with strong confidence. He can easily walk away if he doesn’t like what Washington offers.”

The significance of the Koreas Summit

China foreign minister to visit PyongyangBeijing on Monday said that Wang Yi would visit North Korea later this week — the first time a Chinese foreign minister has made an official trip to Pyongyang since 2007, writes Charles Clover.

Beijing has lauded efforts to engage North Korea, including Friday’s Inter-Korean summit, but is also eager to ensure that no deals are struck without its input during the bilateral meeting between Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un.

“China wants to be included in this process as soon as possible,” said Zhao Tong, an expert on the Korean peninsula at the Tsinghua Carnegie Centre in Beijing.

One of China’s concerns, he said, was that the Panmunjom Declaration — signed by both Korean leaders on Friday in an effort to put a formal end to the Korean war — proposes holding trilateral meetings between the US, North Korea and South Korea, as well as quadrilateral meetings that include China.

“The trilateral format would exacerbate China’s concerns about being left out,” said Mr Zhao.

China is also anxious about being excluded from international inspections teams that could be sent to North Korea to oversee any disarmament processes, he said.

Mr Wang’s visit was likely to be an attempt to secure Beijing’s continued influence with Pyongyang, Mr Zhao said. “China foresees that strategic competition and rivalry with the US will continue to grow, and it will be imperative to ensure that a nuclear-capable North Korea would not develop a closer relationship with the US than with itself,” said Mr Zhao.

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