U.S. ‘will see’ if N.K. willingness for talks is commitment to denuclearize

February 26, 2018

WASHINGTON, Feb. 25 (Yonhap) — The United States “will see” if North Korea’s stated willingness to hold talks is a commitment to abandon its nuclear weapons program, the White House said Sunday.

A visiting North Korean official, Kim Yong-chol, told South Korean President Moon Jae-in earlier in the day that Pyongyang has “enough” willingness to begin dialogue with Washington, according to Seoul’s presidential office, Cheong Wa Dae.

The U.S. and North Korea have been in a standoff over the communist regime’s pursuit of nuclear-tipped ballistic missiles capable of striking the American mainland.

“We will see if Pyongyang’s message today, that it is willing to hold talks, represents the first steps along the path to denuclearization,” White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said in a statement. “In the meantime, the United States and the world must continue to make clear that North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs are a dead end.”

This image shows North Korean leader Kim Jong-un (C) against the backdrop of a meeting between South Korean President Moon Jae-in (2nd from R) and Kim's sister, Yo-jong (2nd from L), in Seoul on Feb. 10, 2018. (Yonhap)This image shows North Korean leader Kim Jong-un (C) against the backdrop of a meeting between South Korean President Moon Jae-in (2nd from R) and Kim’s sister, Yo-jong (2nd from L), in Seoul on Feb. 10, 2018. (Yonhap)

Washington has said that any talks with Pyongyang will have to center on the regime’s denuclearization. North Korea must also make clear that it is willing to discuss the issue before they sit down for talks, according to the U.S.

So far, Pyongyang has said its nuclear program is nonnegotiable.

Kim delivered the message the same day the PyeongChang Winter Olympics drew to a close. He visited the South to lead his country’s delegation to the closing ceremony.

The Games have been the backdrop for a flurry of rare talks and exchanges between the two Koreas, which have seen their own ties deteriorate due to the North’s repeated nuclear and missile provocations.

Moon has been eager to use the current momentum to bring lasting peace to the Korean Peninsula and enable denuclearization talks between Washington and Pyongyang.

“President Donald J. Trump’s Administration is committed to achieving the complete, verifiable, and irreversible denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” Sanders said in the statement. “The United States, our Olympic Host the Republic of Korea, and the international community broadly agree that denuclearization must be the result of any dialogue with North Korea. The maximum pressure campaign must continue until North Korea denuclearizes.”

The U.S.-led pressure campaign has led to tougher economic and diplomatic sanctions on the North, including the latest round of U.S. action against more than 50 shipping and trading companies and vessels Friday.

“As President Trump has said, there is a brighter path available for North Korea if it chooses denuclearization,” Sanders added.

Also commenting on North Korea’s overture, the State Department said, “We are in close contact with the Republic of Korea about our unified response to North Korea.”

“As President Moon stated, ‘The improvement of relations between North and South Korea cannot advance separately from resolving North Korea’s nuclear program,’” Justin Higgins, a department spokesman, said in response to a Yonhap query.

hague@yna.co.kr

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