SEOUL, June 26 (UPI) -- South Korean President Moon Jae-in said Wednesday the peace process with North Korea has never stopped moving and that negotiations are underway for a third summit between the United States and North Korea.
"There's no reason to regard the current situation as a stalemate in the peace process on the Peninsula just because the pace has remained slow," Moon said in a wide-ranging written interview with South Korean news agency Yonhap and a group of international news agencies released by the president's office on Wednesday.
The six international agencies cooperating on the interview were the AP, AFP, Reuters, Russia's TASS, Japan's Kyodo and China's Xinhua.
The South Korean president said there has been "considerable headway" in the peace process and that it is "still making steady progress."
He said that "behind-the-scenes talks" have been ongoing between the United States and North Korea and that dialogue between the South and North is underway through "diverse channels."
Moon cited the recent letter sent by Kim Jong Un to Trump as well as a recent visit by Kim Yo Jong, sister of the North Korean leader, to express condolences on the passing of former South Korean first lady Lee Hee-ho, as evidence of the North's desire to keep dialogue moving.
Other South Korean officials have cited momentum in U.S.-North Korean nuclear negotiations in recent weeks, with Kim Jong Un's meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Pyongyang last week added to the speculation that another summit could be in the works. Xi and Kim had met ahead of the previous two U.S.-North Korea summits.
Moon also expressed his own willingness to meet with Kim Jong Un "at any given moment without being restrained by time, place or formalities," and said that he believed in Kim's "unequivocal resolve" to denuclearize.
"During the three inter-Korean summits with me, Chairman Kim expressed his intent to finalize a denuclearization process as soon as possible and to concentrate on economic development," Moon said.
"I believe in Chairman Kim's determination for denuclearization," he added.
Moon described Kim as "quite a flexible yet resolute person," citing the example of Kim's willingness to hold an unplanned press conference at the first inter-Korean summit, held in the Panmunjom peace village in the DMZ in April of last year, to announce the summit's agreements.
"The original plan was to announce them through a written document such as a joint statement, but I suggested a press conference, considering the historic significance of the summit and its agreements, and Chairman Kim instantly accepted the proposal," Moon said.
Negotiations between North Korea and the United States broke down at the Trump-Kim Hanoi summit in February over the steps and timing of the denuclearization process.
Pyongyang has been looking for the lifting of some international sanctions in exchange for progress toward dismantling its nuclear program, while Washington has held out for complete denuclearization first.
Moon said that he didn't see the summit as a "failure," even though an agreement wasn't reached.
"The Hanoi summit served as a chance for both North Korea and the United States to put everything they want on the negotiating table for candid discussions and come to better understand one another," he said. "What was discussed at the Hanoi summit will become the basis for the next phase of negotiations."
Moon suggested that a phased approach that would allow for concessions from both sides in a step-by-step process can get the peace process moving, with inter-Korean economic projects such as reopening the Kaesong Industrial Complex adding momentum.
"As these steps should be taken reciprocally between them, I proposed to President Trump that [South Korea's] role, including inter-Korean economic cooperation, could be fully utilized as corresponding measures to induce the North to take denuclearization steps," he said.
Moon also said he believed that Kim Jong Un's offer to dismantle the Yongbyon nuclear complex, raised at the Hanoi summit, would place North Korea on an "irreversible" course toward denuclearization.
"If all of the nuclear facilities in the complex, including the plutonium reprocessing facilities and the uranium enrichment facilities, are completely demolished and verified, it would be possible to say that the denuclearization of North Korea has entered an irreversible stage," he said.
The South Korean president has made turning the Korean Peninsula into a single economic bloc a central part of his administration's vision, a point he emphasized again on Wednesday.
"[T]he concept of peace has to be further broadened," he said. "The Korean Peninsula needs to take the path toward common prosperity as one unified community."
In addition to reopening projects such as the Kaesong Industrial Complex, which employed 55,000 North Koreans until it was closed in 2016, Moon has outlined plans to connect roads and railways across the peninsula and restart tourism projects in the North.
"I am convinced that peace drives the economy," he said "The Korean Peninsula peace process will greatly expand Korea's economic territory by connecting the continent and ocean."
Moon will be attending the G20 Summit in Osaka on Thursday and Friday alongside leaders such as Trump, Chinese President Xi Jinping and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
Trump will then fly to Seoul on Saturday, where he has a summit scheduled with Moon on Sunday. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will be joining Trump in Seoul, while the lead envoy for nuclear negotiations, special representative for North Korea Stephen Biegun, is scheduled to arrive in South Korea on Thursday and stay through the weekend.