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Trump, South Korea’s Moon not fully in step on N. Korea sanctions

The Associated Press

U.S. President Donald Trump, right, meets with South Korean President Moon Jae-in at the White House in Washington on Thursday.

The Associated Press WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. President Donald Trump and South Korea’s Moon Jae-in agreed Thursday on the importance of nuclear talks with North Korea, but the two leaders aren’t completely aligned on whether sanctions will pressure Kim Jong Un to give up his nuclear weapons or drive him away from the negotiating table.

Trump, in his first meeting with Moon since the unsuccessful U.S. summit with Kim in Hanoi, said the United States wants to keep economic sanctions in place to pressure Kim to denuclearize. But Trump said he retains good relations with Kim and didn’t rule out a third summit or taking steps to ease food or other shortages in the repressive nation.

“We want sanctions to remain in place,” Trump said at the White House. “I think that sanctions right now are at a level that’s a fair level.”

Moon, for his part, has called for an easing of sanctions, including those holding back joint economic projects between North and South Korea. But he didn’t speak to the sanctions issue as he and Trump spoke with reporters at the start of their talks.

Trump said he would favor easing those sanctions at the right time but added: “This isn’t the right time.” He said he was open to discussing smaller steps, such as helping to ease North Korea’s humanitarian problems, but that, in general, the United States wants sanctions to remain.

“There are various smaller deals that maybe could happen,” Trump said.

“You could work out step-by-step pieces, but at this moment, we’re talking about the big deal. The big deal is we have to get rid of the nuclear weapons.”

Negotiations on Pyongyang’s nuclear program appear to be stalled, and there is uncertainty over whether Kim is considering backing out of talks or restarting nuclear and missile tests. The Korean Central News Agency on Thursday said that at a party meeting on Wednesday, Kim stressed “self-reliance” in his country to “deal a telling blow to the hostile forces” that “go with bloodshot eyes miscalculating that sanctions can bring” North Korea “to its knees.”

Moon said it’s important to maintain the “momentum of dialogue” and express a positive outlook to the international community that a “third U.S.-North Korea summit” will be held.

“I’d like to express my high regard for how you have continued to express your trust towards Chairman Kim,” Moon said. “And also, you have made sure that North Korea does not deviate from the dialogue track.”

Moon did not directly address the issue of sanctions. But several North Korea watchers, including Sue Mi Terry, a North Korean expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and a former Asia analyst at the CIA, said Moon was expected to try to persuade Trump — perhaps only privately — to agree to ease some sanctions to keep the talks alive.

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