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Former Foreign Minister: South Koreans See Trump-Kim Summit As A 'Missed Opportunity'

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Now we'd like to talk about the failed summit in Vietnam earlier this week. Kim Jong Un and President Trump left without a deal after the North Korean leader offered to close only one nuclear facility. President Trump says that isn't enough. But while the conversation has focused on those two leaders, South Korea is also a major player and a key U.S. ally.

We wanted to hear what is at stake for South Korea and how all of this looks from the South Korean perspective, so we've called on Yoon Young-kwan. He served as foreign minister of South Korea from 2003 to 2004. And he is with us now from Seoul. Welcome to the program, Minister Yoon. Thank you so much for speaking with us.

YOON YOUNG-KWAN: My pleasure. Thank you.

MARTIN: As we just said, President Trump and the North Korean leader Kim Jong Un left Hanoi without a deal. What has been the reaction in South Korea?

YOON: Many have read that we missed an important opportunity to make a meaningful progress in denuclearizing North Korea and making Korean Peninsula a peaceful place. But they seem to be expecting that negotiation between the U.S. and North Korea may resume sooner than later, and the situation will not go back to the fire-and-fury situation in 2017. It is mainly because all the leaders of both countries want continuation of negotiation for their own domestic political reasons.

MARTIN: Are they very disappointed in South Korea?

YOON: Yeah. They were disappointed. Many people here expected there to be a reasonable deal if not a breakthrough. But I think there was an upside. There was change in the direction of both leaders in approaching this issue. For example, the U.S. government took a more flexible position. And Chairman Kim Jong Un made it clear that he is ready to take some important measures of denuclearization in return for a partial removal of economic sanction. I think this was meaningful progress. And the gap between the two parties were narrowed down, and the situation has improved, I mean, in the recent few months.

MARTIN: And, finally, it's always a tricky thing to ask someone to assess, you know, public opinion, you know, in a big country like South Korea. But I did want to ask, you know, what is the mood overall. I know, certainly, among the diplomats that there's sadness and, you know, disappointment. But is there a sense more broadly among the public that this is a pivotal moment?

YOON: Korean people desperately want to establish everlasting peace on the Korean Peninsula They want to avoid returning back to the, for example, 2017 situation. So they want to establish a permanent peace here by engaging North Korea into a dialogue and negotiation. And they also want to advance inter-Korean economic cooperation because they think inter-Korean economic cooperation is one of the two important pillars for making peace on the Korean Peninsula in addition to reduction of military tension.

MARTIN: That is Yoon Young-kwan, former Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Korea. He's also professor emeritus of international relations at Seoul National University. He was kind enough to join us from Seoul. Minister Yoon, thank you so much for speaking to us.

YOON: Thank you very much.

(SOUNDBITE OF BOOGIE BELGIQUE'S "STAIRWAY TO THE USSR") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.