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Trump, hosting Moon, sees ‘many options’ on North Korea


South Korean President Moon Jae-in (L) and US President Donald Trump arrive to give a joint press conference in the Rose Garden at the White House in Washington, DC, on June 30, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / JIM WATSON

President Donald Trump welcomed South Korea’s Moon Jae-In Friday for White House talks on how to rein in Pyongyang’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs, with the leaders at odds on whether to isolate or engage the regime.

“We are in the process of discussing our, frankly, many options,” Trump declared as he headed into an Oval Office meeting with the newly-elected president, to be followed by a joint declaration.

“We have many options, with respect to North Korea,” added Trump, who is seeking to isolate Pyongyang following a series of missile tests.

Both the US leader and his South Korean counterpart — making his foreign trip since his resounding poll victory earlier this month — sounded an upbeat note ahead of their meeting, which follows a reception and formal dinner the previous evening.

“Our personal relationship is very, very good,” said Trump. “We had a fantastic dinner at the White House, accomplished a lot having to do with North Korea and trade,” he added, voicing hope for the negotiation of a “fair” bilateral trade deal, another key item on the agenda Friday.

Speaking through a translator, Moon said he and Trump had enjoyed some “very honest discussions on issues that include North Korea.”

Thursday’s dinner “was an opportunity to reconfirm the fact that the United States and Korea are working together on the same path towards a great alliance,” he added, noting that Trump was the first foreign leader to congratulate him on his election.

Moon has used his trip so far to lobby the Trump administration, and US congressional leaders, to back his policy of engagement with the North.

Ahead of his arrival, Moon argued that Seoul and Washington must offer concessions to Pyongyang if it complies with demands for a nuclear freeze — as a gateway to dialogue, and to eventual dismantlement of its nuclear program.

The Trump administration’s North Korea strategy has focused so far on pressing China — Pyongyang’s main diplomatic ally — to bring Kim Jong-Un into line.

But the US leader raised eyebrows last week with a tweet concluding that China’s efforts had “not worked out,” and Friday’s White House talks come a day after Washington slapped sanctions on a Chinese bank linked to North Korea — drawing an angry response from Beijing.

‘Same goal’
Washington, South Korea’s security guarantor, has more than 28,000 troops in the country to defend it from its communist neighbor, which has been intensifying missile tests — including five since Moon’s inauguration.

Pyongyang is seeking to develop nuclear-capable ballistic missiles that could reach the continental United States.

A senior US administration official stressed ahead of the Trump-Moon talks that Washington and Seoul “share precisely the same goal, which is the complete dismantlement of North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs.”

Trump seeks to heap economic and diplomatic pressure on Pyongyang “in order to change their calculus,” the official said.

“Right now we see no evidence that they are seeking to reduce the threat from nuclear weapons or ballistic missile technology.”

Also expected to top the agenda is a controversial US missile defense system that has been installed in South Korea to guard against missile threats from the North.

Though parts of the Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system are already in place, Moon suspended further deployment following a furious campaign of economic sanctions and diplomatic protests by Beijing.

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