WASHINGTON, March 7, 2018 (BSS/AFP) – US President Donald Trump welcomed
North Korea’s breakthrough offer of denuclearization talks as positive — and
apparently sincere — saying Tuesday the standoff over Pyongyang’s weapons
drive would not be allowed to “fester.”
Seoul had earlier announced the two Koreas would hold a historic summit in
the Demilitarized Zone next month — and that the North’s leader Kim Jong Un
was ready to halt provocative missile and nuclear tests and sit down with its
North Korea’s reclusive leader was further said to be willing to consider
the dramatic step of abandoning costly and controversial weapons of mass
destruction programs if the United States agrees not to attack or overthrow
Although Trump’s response was positive, his administration followed it up
with another sharp rebuke when it declared that it had formally concluded
that Kim’s regime had last year murdered his half-brother in a Malaysian
airport with the banned VX nerve agent.
Trump also sounded a note of warning, signaling the threat of military
action remains on the table should talks fail to make headway, and his
administration said it would press ahead with potentially provocative joint
war games with South Korea.
But the US leader was upbeat on the news from Seoul, crediting
Washington’s “very, very strong” sanctions push, as well as “big help” from
China, for the potential diplomatic breakthrough.
Calling the statements coming out of both Seoul and Pyongyang “very
positive,” Trump refused to rule out a historic meeting with Kim.
“We have come a long way at least rhetorically with North Korea,” Trump
“We are going to do something, one way or the other, we are going to do
something and not let that situation fester.”
North Korea’s talks offer appeared to be “sincere,” he said, adding:
“We’ll soon find out.”
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged all sides to seize
the opportunity presented by the talks to move toward “sustainable peace and
The United States says Pyongyang is testing — and will soon complete —
an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of delivering a nuke to the
continental United States.
That ominous technological breakthrough would put cities like Los Angeles
and even New York in striking distance of a hostile regime, something that is
unthinkable to many in the West Wing.
And Washington said its finding that Pyongyang was responsible for the
February 2017 assassination of Kim Jong Nam, Kim’s elder half-brother and a
potential rival, by spraying VX in his face at a busy Malaysian airport
underlined the danger.
“This public display of contempt for universal norms against chemical
weapons use further demonstrates the reckless nature of North Korea and
underscores that we cannot afford to tolerate a North Korean WMD program of
any kind,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said.
Under the US legal ban on chemical weapons, the formal finding triggers a
new layer of US economic sanctions, but in practical terms these duplicate
those already in place.
– Neighborhood diplomacy –
The apparent offer of talks, not yet publicly confirmed by North Korea, is
a tantalizing one for the White House — offering a possible off-ramp from
the road to a bloody war. But it is also fraught with risks.
On multiple occasions, Kim’s father Kim Jong Il dangled the prospect of
talks and denuclearization as a means of buying time, easing sanctions and
dividing South Korea from its allies. South Korea has been deeply worried by
the bellicose rhetoric coming from both Kim and Trump, and has jumped at an
Olympic-fueled diplomatic opening.
Next month’s summit — the result of a series of meetings on either side
of the contested border — would follow a year of high tensions during which
Pyongyang carried out its most powerful nuclear test to date, along with
launches of rockets capable of reaching the US mainland.
Trump has dubbed Kim “Little Rocket Man” and boasted about the size of his
nuclear button, while the North Korean leader called the American president a
“mentally deranged US dotard.”
But the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics in the South triggered an apparent
transformation, with Kim sending his sister to the opening ceremony, sparking
a flurry of cross-border trips as South Korean President Moon Jae-in moved to
broker talks between Pyongyang and Washington.
Kim Yo Jong’s visit to the South was the first by a member of the North’s
ruling dynasty since the end of the 1950-53 Korean War.
North and South agreed to hold a summit in late April in Panmunjom, the
truce village in the DMZ, South Korea’s national security adviser Chung
Eui-yong said after leading the most senior delegation to travel North for
more than a decade.
– ‘Very important breakthrough’ –
It will be the third meeting between the leaders of the two Koreas, but
the first to take place in the DMZ after summits in Pyongyang in 2000 and
The North “made clear that there is no reason to own nuclear (weapons) if
military threats toward the North are cleared and the safety of its regime is
guaranteed,” Chung said.
Pyongyang “expressed willingness to have frank dialogue with the US to
discuss the denuclearization issue and to normalize North-US relations,” he
added, and said there would be no provocations such as nuclear or ballistic
missile tests while dialogue was under way.
“Also, the North promised not to use atomic weapons or conventional
weapons towards the South,” he told reporters, adding that Seoul and
Pyongyang would set up a hotline between the leaders.
Kim also said he would “understand” if the South goes ahead with delayed
joint military exercises with the US that usually infuriate Pyongyang, a
senior official at the South’s presidential office added.
Previous negotiations with Pyongyang have ultimately foundered. Six-party
talks, grouping the two Koreas, Russia, China, Japan and the US, and offering
the North security and economic benefits in exchange for denuclearization,
broke down almost a decade ago.