President Donald Trump and South Korean President Moon Jae-in have common ground in dismantling North Korea’s nuclear program, according to the White House, even if the two leaders meeting Thursday at the White House seem to have different goals for doing so.
Moon, who was elected in May, has talked about how South Korea should be able to “say no to the Americans,” and advocates more economic engagement with North Korea as a means of negotiations rather than sanctions. Trump, on the other hand, has pushed for more sanctions from U.S. allies unilaterally and through the United Nations.
Coordinating the response by the two new leaders to North Korea is going to be a major subject of the meeting, a senior White House official told reporters Wednesday. The meeting will also be about building a rapport, the official said. The leaders have “precisely the same goal” on North Korea.
A South Korean delegation indicated skepticism about deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense, or THAAD, missile defense system for South Korea. Moon asserted he wouldn’t overturn the alliance deployment decision, but froze ongoing deployment for environmental concerns, a delay that could take up to two years. THAAD is a U.S. designed system capable of shooting down short- and medium-range missiles, the type that North Korea could launch at its neighbor.
Such a delay could increase the risks from North Korea, noted Bruce Klingner, a senior research fellow for Northeast Asia at The Heritage Foundation.
Moon has called for more military independence. Under the current agreements, South Korean military forces would be turned over to United Nations command—typically a U.S. commander—if the U.S. and South Korea agree a state of war exists with North Korea, Klingner said.
The senior White House official said neither Trump nor Moon will be treating THAAD as a central part of discussion, but it might come as a “routine matter of housekeeping.”
Trump does intend to talk about trade, and bring up barriers to the sale of U.S. automobiles in South Korea. The official said it would be a “friendly, frank discussion about the trade imbalance.”