North Korea willing to hold nuclear talks with US, says Seoul

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North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has expressed a willingness to discuss nuclear disarmament with the US and impose a moratorium on nuclear and missile tests during such talks, a senior South Korean official has said.

Mr Kim also agreed to meet South Korea’s president at a tense border village in late April, presidential national security director Chung Eui-yong said after talks with Mr Kim in Pyongyang, North Korea’s capital.

The North’s reported willingness to hold a “candid dialogue” with the US to discuss denuclearisation and establish diplomatic relations follows a year of increased fears of war on the Korean peninsula, with Mr Kim and US President Donald Trump exchanging fiery rhetoric and crude insults over Mr Kim’s barrage of weapons tests.

Suh Hoon and Chung Eui-yong return from talks in North Korea (Song Kyung-seok/AP)
Suh Hoon and Chung Eui-yong return from talks in North Korea (Song Kyung-seok/AP)

The Trump administration also pushed through some of the harshest sanctions the already hugely sanctioned North has yet faced.

Mr Trump tweeted that “possible progress” was being made in the talks with North Korea, and that all sides were making serious efforts.

He added: “May be false hope, but the US is ready to go hard in either direction!”

He said North Korea “seems to be acting positively”.

The situation on the Korean peninsula could not be allowed to “fester”, he said hoping the latest offer would be a breakthrough.

“We have come certainly a long way, at least rhetorically, with North Korea,” Mr Trump added. “It’d be a great thing for the world.”

However, there is still scepticism whether the developments will help establish genuine peace between the Koreas, which have a long history of failing to follow through with major agreements.

The US has made it clear it does not want empty talks with North Korea and that all options, including military measures, remain on the table.

The North has repeatedly said in the past that it will not negotiate over its nuclear programme and vowed to bolster its nuclear and missile arsenals.

Its apparent about-face might be an attempt to win concessions as its economy struggles under the weight of sanctions, some analysts said, or a way to buy time to better develop nuclear missiles targeting the mainland US.

Many experts believe North Korea will not easily give up a nuclear programme it has doggedly developed, despite years of escalating international pressure, to cope with what it claims is US hostility.

Mr Chung led a 10-member South Korean delegation on a two-day visit to North Korea. They were the first South Korean officials to meet the young North Korean leader since he took power after his dictator father’s death in late 2011.

The trip also was the first known high-level visit by South Korean officials to the North in about 11 years.

It followed a series of co-operative steps taken by the Koreas during last month’s Pyeongchang Winter Olympics hosted by South Korea.

If talks with the US happen, Mr Chung said North Korea “made it clear that it won’t resume strategic provocations like additional nuclear tests or test-launches of ballistic missiles” while the talks continue.

Pyongyang told the South Korean envoys it would not need to keep its nuclear weapons if military threats against it are removed and it receives a credible security guarantee, Mr Chung said.

He said the North promised not to use its nuclear and conventional weapons against South Korea.

Mr Kim also said he “understands” that contentious annual military drills by the US and South Korea will take place in April at a scale similar to previous years and expressed hope they could be modified once the situation on the Korean peninsula stabilises, according to a senior South Korean presidential official.

Mr Chung said the two Koreas agreed to hold their summit at a Seoul-controlled facility inside the border village. He also said Mr Kim and liberal South Korean President Moon Jae-in will establish a “hotline” communication channel between them to lower military tensions, and would speak together before the planned summit.