by Steve Herman
President Donald Trump and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe are to meet before a planned summit between Trump and North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un, according to Japanese officials.
Trump and Abe spoke Monday as American officials were in North Korea and Singapore to discuss arrangements for the prospective talks.
The White House has not responded to VOA queries about the details of the Trump-Abe discussion, however.
The phone conversation took place before Trump went to Arlington National Cemetery for a Memorial Day ceremony. There the president made no reference to the situation on the Korean peninsula in his 22-minute scripted remarks.
Nearly 34,000 Americans died as a result of hostile action in the three-year war on the peninsula. Hostilities ceased in 1953 with an armistice but no peace treaty has ever been signed.
It is unclear when or where Trump and Abe will meet before the anticipated Singapore summit, which the U.S. president has said in recent days is likely to occur on June 12 after he declared last Thursday that the summit would not be held on that day.
Both Trump and Abe are set to attend the Group of Seven economic summit June 8-9 in Canada.
U.S. and North Korean officials met again Monday at the Korean demilitarized zone.
Sung Kim, the U.S. ambassador to the Philippines and former envoy to South Korea, is leading the U.S. delegation at the preparation talks.Reports say the meetings are expected to last until Tuesday.
Meanwhile, White House Deputy Chief of Staff Joe Hagin and others from theadministration took a flight Sunday to Singapore.
“They traveled to Singapore to focus on logistics preparations,” a White House official confirmed to VOA News on Monday.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in could also be going to Singapore next month for a three-way summit with his U.S. and North Korean counterparts next month, a government official in Seoul said on Monday.
After a surprise meeting Saturday between Kim and Moon Jae-in, the South Korean president said the North Korean leader is still committed to the “complete denuclearization” of the Korean peninsula.
The U.S. has called for “complete, verifiable and irreversible” dismantling of the Pyongyang’s nuclear arsenal. North Korea has rejected unilateral disarmament and called for denuclearization of the Korean peninsula without defining what that entails.
For Kim “denuclearization can’t be a one-sided event that he’s giving some stuff up and not getting some comparable U.S. action,” according to Bruce Bennett senior defense analyst at the Rand Corporation research group.
There could be division under Kim within North Korea’s hierarchy about the diplomatic approach to the Americans, according to Bennet.
“Kim Jong Un has been anxious for a long time, and his father before him, to meet with the U.S. president and develop the appearance for internal political purposes that he’s the peer of the American president.The nuclear weapons give him the feeling that he should be able to do that now,” Bennett tells VOA.
Senator Marco Rubio, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, on CBS News said Sunday he is “not very optimistic” that Kim will agree to abandon his atomic arsenal. “These nuclear weapons are something he’s psychologically attached to.They are what gives him his prestige and importance.”
A former U.S. director of national intelligence, James Clapper, also on CBS, expressed concern Pyongyang may demand the removal or scaling back of American troops in South Korea in exchange for denuclearization.
The North Koreans, after expressing initial enthusiasm about diplomacy with the United States, earlier this month did not show up for a preparatory meeting in Singapore, threatened to use nuclear force, and referred to Vice President Mike Pence as a “political dummy.”
Pence had remarked that North Korea could wind up like Libya – a country mired in chaos since it gave up its nuclear ambitions and saw its longtime dictator killed years later by U.S.-backed rebels.
But North Korean state media subsequently reported on Kim’s “fixed will” that a summit with Trump should go ahead.
During Moon and Kim’s second border meeting Saturday the two leaders exchanged views on how to prepare for the North’s possible summit with Trump.
“It was like an ordinary encounter between friends,” Moon told reporters.“What’s uncertain for Kim is not his intention to denuclearize, but the U.S. stance in hostile relations with North Korea and whether the U.S. can really secure and guarantee his regime.”
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VOA’s Ira Mellman contributed to this report.