South Korea Says North is Willing to Discuss Giving Up Nuclear Weapons

The North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, center, meeting in Pyongyang, the capital, on Monday, with South Korean envoys.
North Korean Central News Agency, via European Pressphoto Agency

North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, has told South Korean envoys that he is willing to begin negotiations with the United States on abandoning its nuclear weapons and that it would suspend all nuclear and missile tests while engaged in such talks, South Korean officials said on Tuesday.

President Trump reacted with guarded optimism to the news, which potentially represented a major defusing of one of the world’s most tense confrontations.

During the envoys’ two-day visit to Pyongyang, the North’s capital, which ended on Tuesday, the two Koreas also agreed to hold a summit meeting between Mr. Kim and President Moon Jae-in of South Korea on the countries’ border in late April, Mr. Moon’s office said in a statement.

“The North Korean side clearly stated its willingness to denuclearize,” the statement said. “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.”

If the statement is corroborated by North Korea, it would be the first time Mr. Kim has indicated that his government is willing to discuss giving up nuclear weapons in return for security guarantees from the United States. Until now, North Korea has said its nuclear weapons were not for bargaining away.

“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,” the statement said. “It made it clear that while dialogue is continuing, it will not attempt any strategic provocations, such as nuclear and ballistic missile tests.”

On Twitter, Mr. Trump, who has veered from bellicose threats against Mr. Kim to offers to sit down with him, welcomed what he called “possible progress” with the North. “For the first time in many years, a serious effort is being made by all parties concerned,” Mr. Trump said. “The World is watching and waiting! May be false hope, but the U.S. is ready to go hard in either direction!”

The cautious American reaction partly reflected a history of suspicion toward the motives of North Korea, which has remained an enemy of the United States since the 1950-53 Korean War.

A pattern of what American officials have described as North Korean duplicity in previous talks has repeated itself, with modest variations, during the Clinton, George W. Bush, and Obama administrations. In January 2009, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, who had served under both Mr. Bush and Mr. Obama, summarized the American skepticism about North Korea with an oft-repeated line: “I’m tired of buying the same horse twice.”

The South Korean statement said the two Koreas would begin working-level discussions to prepare for the summit meeting, to be held in the Peace House, a South Korean building in Panmunjom, the so-called truce village that straddles the border. Before Mr. Kim and Mr. Moon meet, the countries will install, for the first time, a hotline by which the leaders can talk on the phone directly, the statement said.

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SOURCE: NY Times, Choe Sang-Hun and Mark Landler