By Brian Murphy / The Washington Post
North Korea suggested it was open to talks with the United States that could include steps to curb the North’s nuclear program, a top South Korean envoy said Tuesday after landmark meetings with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
There was no immediate word from Washington on the prospects for such outreach with the North.
But the offer, apparently endorsed by Kim himself, would mark a significant turnabout after years of nuclear tests and advances in missile technology that apparently puts the U.S. mainland within range.
Previously, the Trump administration has said it would consider talks with North Korea if it conceded to “denuclearization.”
Chung Eui-yong, South Korea’s presidential national security director, said in Seoul that the North was willing to discuss steps to roll back its nuclear program if the United States agreed to talks.
The North would also agreed to suspend nuclear and missile tests during the possible talks with the United States, he said.
The announcements came following a groundbreaking meeting Monday between Kim and a 10-member South Korean delegation led by Chung. The South Korean envoys returned Tuesday.
Chung said the two sides agreed to hold a summit at a border village in late April, and set plans to establish a “hotline” between the leaders to try to ease military tensions.
The package of agreements followed openings made during last month’s Winter Olympics in PyeongChang. It also comes as North Korea faces a tightening economic vise from international sanctions.
Chung also could play an important role as mediator if momentum builds toward talks.
Chung, who speaks fluent English and is in regular contact with his American counterpart, H.R. McMaster, was specifically chosen to lead the delegation because he would be viewed in Washington as a credible messenger, according to people close to South Korea’s presidential Blue House.
Chung plans to travel soon to Washington to brief Trump administration officials about the meeting with Kim.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in has been seeking ways to engage with North Korea, diplomatically or economically, as talk in Washington about military options has grown louder. He has repeatedly said that the United States must not strike North Korea without the approval of South Korea, where half the population lives within North Korean artillery range.
Trump, for his part, has vacillated between threatening to “totally destroy” North Korea and seeming open to dialogue. Trump said Saturday that he “won’t rule out direct talks with Kim Jong Un.”
While Trump was making his remarks Saturday, North Korea said it would only talk to the United States if it were on an “equal footing,” without any preconditions. The United States has insisted that North Korea commit to denuclearization before sitting down to talks.
“It is the consistent and principled position of the DPRK to resolve issues in a diplomatic and peaceful way through dialogue and negotiation,” the North’s state-run Korean Central News Agency reported Saturday, using a common initialism for North Korea.