Seoul, South Korea – The cancellation of a planned summit between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has caught many in South Korea off-guard, including President Moon Jae-in, with top diplomats scrambling to avert a political fallout with promises of continued talks.
“The current communication method [between the US and North Korea] won’t be able to resolve a sensitive and complex diplomatic issue,” Moon said during the National Security Council meeting, according to the Korea Economic Daily.
“I look forward to seeing two leaders making a direct and close communication to resolve the current situation,” he said.
The announcement comes just two days after Trump hosted Moon at the White House for talks widely seen as an effort to save the summit scheduled for next month in Singapore from being scuttled.
Relations between the two Koreas have warmed since Winter Olympics in February, when North Korea agreed to send its athletes to South Korea.
In April, Kim became the first North Korean leader to step into South Korea since the 1953 Korean War for an historic summit between Kim and Moon. The two leaders promised to work for the denuclearisation of the region and pledged to sign a peace deal.
South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha spoke on the phone with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and received assurance that the US wants to keep the diplomatic channel with Pyongyang open, according to South Korea’s Yonhap news agency.
Earlier, North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kye-gwan said that despite Trump’s decision to cancel the June 12 meeting in Singapore, Pyongyang has the “intent to sit with the US side to solve the problem regardless of ways at any time”.
Still, politicians in Seoul did not hide their disappointment in the abrupt decision of Trump.
“It’s a shame that there’s a big obstacle in the process of the US-North Korea summit, but we believe the dialogue between the North and the US will be resumed,” said Kim Hyun, spokesperson of the Democratic Party of Korea, the political party of Moon.
‘Trump’s disrespect of Moon’
Hong Min, director of the North Korean studies division at the Korean Institute for National Unification, said it did not look like the US consulted South Korea over the cancellation.
“It is a diplomatic disrespect to President Moon, who has been coordinating between the North and the US as a mediator,” Hong added.
South Korean National Assembly member Hong Jun-pyo, leader of the opposition Liberty Korea Party, said in his Facebook post, “I express a deep regret.”
He questioned the sincerity of North Korea’s promise to denuclearise saying, “It reaffirms that the North Korean nuclear issue needs to be resolved with continuous international sanctions and pressure.”
Reactions of ordinary South Koreans also reflect the disappointment of the political establishment.
“It’s a shame that the summit has been called off because the opportunity like this doesn’t come easily,” said Song Dong-suk, a 36-year-old office worker in Seoul.
“But since both sides have left a room for future talks, I think there might be a chance that the talk can happen.”
Kim Soon-taek, a 70-year-old retiree said, “There’s a feeling of disappointment, but I have seen a lot of cases in which North Korea changed their stance or scrap what’s been discussed. I don’t have a trust in this case as well.”
‘Meeting could still happen’
Experts said the sudden cancellation of the summit comes as a result of recent exchanges of hostile remarks made between the US and North Korea.
“The statement from the North’s Vice Foreign Minister Choe Son-hui seems to be an immediate trigger of the Trump’s letter,” said John Delury, associate professor of Chinese studies at Yonsei University in Seoul.
On Thursday, Choe said the summit with the US will be reconsidered if the US continues its “unlawful and outrageous acts”, describing remarks by US Vice President Mike Pence as “ignorant and stupid”.
Pence had earlier said that North Korea “may end like Libya”, if it refuses to adhere to the American demand of denuclearisation.
In 2004, Libya also entered into negotiations with the US to ship out nuclear components out of the country. But six years later, the US supported the overthrow of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, who was later killed by rebel fighters.
Beyond the brash comments, the US and North Korea may have been struggling to find a common stance in their denuclearisation agenda, said Delury of Yonsei University.
“Presumably, if they saw the deal is about to happen, they would have toned down the language and wouldn’t have called off the meeting.”
Delury noted that Trump’s letter to the North Korean leader “leaves open the possibility” of a meeting.