South Korea’s new President Moon Jae-in dined with his US counterpart Donald Trump Thursday evening, ahead of their formal meeting Friday, South Korean officials say.
The two met privately for 10 minutes ahead of a banquet in the White House’s state dining room, according to Yoon Young-chan, Senior Secretary of South Korean President Office Public Affairs.
“Both leaders, from the beginning, exchanged opinions on issues of mutual interest in a very earnest manner,” but the mood became more convivial as the event wore on, according to Yoon.
The US President then invited Moon to tour his private quarters on the third floor of the White House, including a tour of the Lincoln Bedroom.
“Moon sat on the bed and took a photo,” Yoon said.
The Blue House — South Korea’s presidential office — said it was hopeful the initial meeting, which ran for almost two hours, would allow the two leaders to better understand each other ahead of Friday’s more formal talks.
Shortly after the dinner, Trump tweeted that “many subjects” including “North Korea and (a) new trade deal” were discussed.
South Korean companies announced, during the trip, that they will invest some $12 billion in the US over the next five years.
Dealing with North Korea
Moon, a center left former human rights lawyer, took office in May after his conservative predecessor was impeached on corruption charges.
He’s a strong proponent of engagement with Pyongyang, and soon after coming to office delayed the deployment of the US-developed THAAD anti-missile system.
Moon has repeatedly stressed that he is open to dialogue with North Korea, if conditions are met and North Korea temporarily halts its nuclear program.
Trump has taken a more confrontational approach. His administration wants to withhold negotiations with North Korea until preconditions are met, and his advisers have prepared response measures — including military options — should North Korea conduct another provocative action.
The reclusive state has conducted numerous missile and nuclear tests since Kim Jong Un took power in 2011, and has been particularly active in the past six months.
The stakes are high for both sides, says Adam Mount, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress.
“(The) alliance is vital for anything the Trump administration wants to do on North Korea, from sanctions enforcement and deterrence to human rights issues, you name it. It’s the most important tool for the US President,” said Mount.
In recent weeks, Trump has attempted to push China to do more to pressure North Korea to abandon its nuclear program.
After tweeting that China’s efforts had “not worked out,” the US seemed to take a different tack Thursday, by imposing US sanctions on a Chinese bank which allegedly has ties to Pyongyang’s illicit financial deals.
Rights group urges discussion of refugee question
Human rights groups were hoping other issues will be put on what’s likely to be a crowded agenda.
In a statement, Human Rights Watch (HRW) urged the two leaders to discuss the issue of North Korean refugees detained in China at their meeting Friday,
“The refugees are at risk of imminent return to North Korea, where they face torture and long-term detention,” the statement said.
HRW said North Koreans forcibly returned by China “regularly endure torture while being interrogated about their activities abroad.
“They then can disappear into North Korea’s horrific prison camp system, where prisoners face torture, sexual violence, forced labor, and other inhuman treatment.”
Moon will return to White House Friday morning and meet face-to-face with Trump before the two leaders hold an expanded bilateral meeting.
They will make a joint press statement afterward.