S Korea abuzz about N Korean leader’s possible trip

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — Day after day, rampant speculation about North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s possible trip to Seoul is making headlines in South Korea, despite no official confirmation from either government.

Many analysts say it would be extremely difficult for Kim to fulfill by the end of this year his reported promise to become the first North Korean leader to visit South Korea, given limited time for preparation and impasses in global diplomacy on his nuclear weapons. But others say we will not know until the year is over, noting that several previously unthinkable events have happened in the past months, including Kim’s June summit with President Donald Trump in Singapore.

A look at the status of Kim’s possible trip to Seoul:

As the year draws to a close, South Korean media, experts and politicians are churning out reports and guesswork on whether Kim will come to Seoul by the end of December, or will postpone or even spike his plan.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in appears to be pushing Kim to keep his promise, though he said there is no time frame for his visit. After a meeting with Trump last week on the sidelines of the G-20 summit in Argentina, Moon told reporters that the two agreed that Kim’s trip would play a “very positive role” in US-North Korea nuclear diplomacy. Moon suggested that Trump agreed Kim’s Seoul trip could come before the resumption of high-level US-North Korean talks, including a possible second Trump-Kim summit.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in, left, and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un ride in a car during a parade through a street in Pyongyang, North Korea. – AP

One of the time frames that South Korean media say would likely be for Kim’s trip to South Korea is December 18-20. These dates are based on a belief that the two Koreas would need more than a week of preparation, and would allow Kim to stay at home for a December 17 memorial service for his late dictator father, Kim Jong-il.

Also, Kim would be busy in late December preparing for his annual New Year’s Day address to outline his policy directions for 2019. Moon’s presidential office yesterday reiterated that Kim’s trip can occur either this month or early next year, saying it’s up to North Korea.

So the ball is in Kim’s court now, but his propaganda services have been silent about a Seoul trip.

Kim might find such a trip less beneficial now than when he agreed to it following his third summit with Moon in Pyongyang in September.

At the time, some experts said the United States could soon accept a North Korean request for jointly declaring the end of the 1950-53 Korean War as part of security assurances to the North so that Kim could find it less burdensome to make a symbolic, emotionally charged trip to Seoul after receiving that political concession.

But North Korea-US diplomacy has since come to a standstill amid disputes over a US demand that North Korea first disclose a full inventory of its nuclear weapons and take other significant denuclearisation steps before winning major outside rewards. North Korea, for its part, now wants sanctions relief, the end-of-war declaration and other reciprocal measures from the United States, arguing it has taken some steps, like dismantling its nuclear testing facility and releasing American detainees.

Kim’s top lieutenants could also persuade him not to go to Seoul, citing worries about security arrangements for their “supreme leader” visiting an enemy state.