US President Donald Trump and his South Korean counterpart Moon Jae-in said talks involving North Korea should continue, referring to the situation on the peninsula as grave.
The two leaders spoke by phone for about 30 minutes on Saturday morning in Seoul, in a call that took place at Trump’s request, according to Moon’s spokeswoman Ko Min-jung.
“The two leaders acknowledged that the current situation on the Korean Peninsula is serious and agreed that the dialogue momentum aimed at delivering an early accomplishment of the US-North Korea talks for the North’s denuclearization should be maintained,” Ko said in a text message to reporters.
The conversation comes amid signs that North Korea may be preparing to conduct engine tests at its long-range rocket launch site, and rising tensions as a war of words between it and the US continues.
A satellite image showed activity at North Korea’s Sohae Launch Facility, which leader Kim Jong Un had once said he dismantled in a concession to Trump. Earlier this week, Washington and Pyongyang revisited old insults — “Rocket Man” from Trump and “dotard” from North Korea — and Pyongyang said Washington’s behavior will determine what “Christmas gift” it gets from Kim.
Meanwhile, the US is withholding its support from hosting a human rights debate on North Korea next week during its turn leading the United Nations Security Council, according to several diplomats familiar with the discussions. US allies, including Germany and the UK, have sought to hold such a meeting on December 10, but they would need US backing to do so. The US told the allies on Friday it wouldn’t be supporting the effort, meaning the meeting won’t have enough votes to go ahead, according to the diplomats, who asked not to be identified discussing private talks.
The decision, which could still be reversed, comes as US-North Korea ties enter a tenuous phase: Kim Jong Un has warned the US it has until year-end to salvage a breakthrough in stalled talks over North Korean denuclearization. The US has said it’s ready to engage in talks, but Pyongyang isn’t
responding. A US decision to host a human rights debate at the UN could antagonize the North Koreans, prompting them to test weapons or missiles in a show of force that would undermine what the Trump administration considers one of its key foreign policy achievements: a lowering of tensions on the Korean peninsula. At a news conference earlier on Friday, US Ambassador to the UN Kelly Craft criticized North Korea’s human rights record but stopped short of confirming whether the Security Council will convene a meeting on that topic next week.
Officials with the US mission at the UN didn’t immediately reply to a request for comment about the withholding of American support. Craft has authority to shape the Security Council’s agenda because the US has the panel’s rotating presidency in December. North Korea’s ambassador to the UN, Kim Song, warned the council this week not to hold a human rights meeting, saying it would lead to “undermining rather than helping” to reduce tensions on the Korean peninsula. The meeting would be considered a “serious provocation” and Pyongyang will “respond strongly,” he added.
“I have read the letter,” Craft said, when asked about the North Korean ambassador’s warning. “We care about human rights. I care about human rights. It is an issue that that our president cares about.” North Korea’s human rights violations have been widely documented, but the decision to give the issue a prominent spotlight at the UN’s most important body is usually contested. China has argued that the Security Council isn’t the venue in which to discuss human rights, saying they don’t pose a threat to international peace and security.
While such a debate has taken place most years since 2014, it wasn’t held last year as President Donald Trump sought a second summit with Kim.
With Kim’s “deadline” approaching, North Korea may be preparing to conduct engine tests at a long-range rocket launch site. A satellite image shows activity at its Sohae Launch Facility, which Kim once said he had dismantled in a concession to Trump.