(ANTIMEDIA) Korean Peninsula — Extending the progress made at the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, officials from South Korea said on Tuesday that the North is now open to the idea of abandoning its nuclear weapons program and would even halt missile tests while negotiations with the United States were underway.
The announcement comes after a rare two-day visit by South Korean envoys to the North’s capital of Pyongyang in which they met directly with leader Kim Jong-un. During that meeting, it was also agreed that Kim and South Korean President Moon Jae-in will hold a summit at the two countries’ border in late April.
Additionally, a hotline will be established between the North and South to better allow for communication. All this goodwill, however, is contingent upon the U.S. guaranteeing the safety of the Kim regime.
“The North Korean side clearly stated its willingness to denuclearize,” President Moon’s office said in a statement. “It made it clear that it would have no reason to keep nuclear weapons if the military threat to the North was eliminated and its security guaranteed.”
The statement also said that as long as peaceful negotiations continue, the North would freeze its nuclear program:
“The North expressed its willingness to hold a heartfelt dialogue with the United States on the issues of denuclearization and normalizing relations with the United States. It made it clear that while dialogue is continuing, it will not attempt any strategic provocations, such as nuclear and ballistic missile tests.”
President Donald Trump was guardedly optimistic about the news but was also certain to reference the possibility of military action in a Tuesday tweet:
“Possible progress being made in talks with North Korea. For the first time in many years, a serious effort is being made by all parties concerned. The World is watching and waiting! May be false hope, but the U.S. is ready to go hard in either direction!”
The tone was similar, if a bit more hard-edged, in a statement from Vice President Mike Pence:
“Whichever direction talks with North Korea go, we will be firm in our resolve. The United States and our allies remain committed to applying maximum pressure on the Kim regime to end their nuclear program. All options are on the table and our posture toward the regime will not change until we see credible, verifiable, and concrete steps toward denuclearization.”
The Trump administration has consistently stated that it’s only open to the idea of normalizing relations with North Korea if the country first agrees to abandon its nuclear ambitions. If the Hermit Kingdom agreed to that condition, Trump has said he’d be willing to meet with Kim Jong-un.
As for the joint U.S.-South Korea military drills that were postponed during the Winter Olympics, those will proceed in April. Chung Eui-yong, director of South Korea’s National Intelligence Service and the man who led the Pyongyang delegation, told reporters Tuesday Kim was surprisingly flexible on this front:
“Kim Jong-un simply said he could understand why the joint exercises must resume in April on the same scale as before. But he said he expected them to be readjusted if the situation on the Korean Peninsula stabilizes in the future.”
In fact, Chung said that beyond asking that the U.S. guarantee his country’s safety, Kim had no other demands during his meeting with the South.
“There was no other specific demand from North Korea in returning to dialogue,” he said. “They only said they wanted to be treated like a serious dialogue partner.”
While analysts and commentators are already speculating about how seriously the North’s overture can be taken, the very fact that Kim Jong-un met with South Korean delegates — the first such occurrence since the leader came to power in 2011 — is cause enough for hope that the situation on the Korean peninsula won’t devolve into conflict.
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