North Korea is willing to hold talks with the United States on a range of issues including Pyongyang’s nuclear development program, a ranking North Korean official told South Korean President Moon Jae-in.
Kim Yong Chol, a senior official of the North’s ruling Worker’s Party in charge of inter-Korean relations, made the remarks at a meeting Sunday with Moon in Pyeongchang, South Korea, the host city for the 2018 Winter Olympic Games. Moon’s presidential office announced the overture in a statement picked up by South Korea’s Yonhap news agency.
Kim, the former North Korean spy chief, was sitting just a few feet away from Ivanka Trump, President Trump’s daughter, at the closing ceremony Sunday, but the two did not interact. Ivanka Trump, who was leading the U.S. delegation, briefed Moon on the latest set of sanctions and delivered a personal message from her father after she arrived in Seoul on Friday for her four-day visit.
The North Korean attaché, in South Korea for the end of the Olympics, is a controversial character in the South, suspected by Seoul of having masterminded two attacks in 2010 that killed 50 South Koreans.
Moon spokesman Kim Eui-kyeom said the president urged that U.S.-North Korea “be held at an early date … for an improvement in the South-North Korea relationship and the fundamental resolution of Korean Peninsula issues.”
“The North Korean delegation, too, agreed that North Korea-U.S. relations must develop along with the South-North Korea relationship,” Kim Eui-kyeom said.
Thepossible thaw comes amid a backdrop of a series of ever-toughening sanctions against the North, spearheaded by the U.S., as recently as last week.
Harry Kazianis, director of defense studies at the Washington-based think tank Center for the National Interest, expressed skepticism at the North’s outreach.
“To put it simply — will North Korea talk nukes or is (leader) Kim Jong Un just looking to buy more time?” Kazianis told USA TODAY. “We will find out soon enough.”
A sincere offer of talks would provide a rare step toward diplomacy after years of missile and nuclear tests and direct threats of war from Pyongyang — and from Washington.
Moon won election last year after promising to engage North Korea in an effort to ease tensions on the Korean Peninsula. The two countries held talks in January, the first such engagement in two years. South Korea agreed to host North Korean athletes, musicians, cheerleaders and a high-level delegation at the Olympics.
For the opening of the Games, North Korea’s leader sent his younger sister, Kim Yo Jong, as part of the delegation to meet Moon. She invited the South Korean president to Pyongyang for talks with her brother. Moon did not immediately accept, but such a meeting would appear likely.
She sat in the same VIP box with Moon and U.S. Vice President Pence, creating some awkward moments. Though Pence stood to cheer the entrance of the U.S. team, he remained seated when the athletes from North and South Korea marched together behind a “unification” flag, leaving Moon to instinctively turn around and shake Kim’s sister’s hand.
Outside Olympic Stadium, just before Sunday’s closing ceremony, more than 200 anti-Pyongyang protesters waved South Korean and U.S. flags, banged drums and held signs saying “Killer Kim Yong Chol go to hell.” They denounced the South Korean government’s decision to allow the visit.
The protesters also put up a sign that read: “We are against Pyongyang Olympics: fallen into the propaganda of the terrorist Kim Jong Un’s brutal regime.”
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