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Trump says US open to talks with North Korea: White House

South Korea said Donald Trump, in a telephone call on Wednesday, had also told President Moon Jae-in there would be no military action while talks between North and South Korea were going on.

world Updated: Jan 11, 2018 07:58 IST
US President Donald Trump holds a cabinet meeting at the White House in Washington, US.
US President Donald Trump holds a cabinet meeting at the White House in Washington, US.(Reuters Photo)

US President Donald Trump told South Korea’s leader a day after the first intra-Korean talks in more than two years that the United States was open to talks with North Korea “at the appropriate time, under the right circumstances,” the White House said.

South Korea said Trump, in a telephone call on Wednesday, had also told President Moon Jae-in there would be no military action while talks between North and South Korea were going on.

“Both heads of state forecast the current inter-Korean talks could naturally lead to talks between the United States and North Korea for the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula after the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics and agreed to negotiate closely on the progression of inter-Korean talks,” a statement from South Korea’s presidential Blue House said.

The White House said Trump had said the United States was open to talks with North Korea “at the appropriate time, under the right circumstances.”

The South Korean statement also quoted Trump as saying that a report in the Wall Street Journal newspaper that he was contemplating a military strike against North Korea was “completely wrong.”

“He went on to say that there will be no military action as long as talks between the two Koreas are ongoing,” it said.

At Tuesday’s intra-Korea talks - the first since 2015 - Seoul and Pyongyang agreed resolve all problems between them through dialogue and to revive military consultations so that accidental conflict could be averted.

North Korea also said it would attend the Olympics.

However, Pyongyang said it would not discuss its nuclear weapons because they were aimed only at the United States and not its “brethren” in South Korea, or Russia or China, showing that a diplomatic breakthrough to the crisis remained far off.

Washington welcomed the talks as a first step toward solving the crisis over North Korea’s program to develop nuclear missiles capable of reaching the United States, but reiterated that any talks involving the United States must be aimed at North Korea’s denuclearization.

Trump, who has swung between hurling insults and threats at North Korea to expressing a willingness to talk, said on Saturday he would be willing to speak to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, though not without pre-conditions.

An unsourced article in the Wall Street Journal on Tuesday said US officials were debating whether it was possible to mount a limited military strike against North Korean sites without igniting an all-out war on the Korean peninsula.

The Trump administration has said it prefers a diplomatic solution but that all options are on the table, including military.

US officials say Trump has been considering a number of military options, including a preemptive strike on a missile or nuclear facility, but officials and analysts have warned of the risks of triggering a catastrophic wider conflict.

Moon credits Trump for talks

Earlier on Tuesday, Moon made a point of crediting Trump for the inter-Korean talks.

He also said he was open to meeting with Kim at any time if conditions were right and “certain achievements are guaranteed”.

“The purpose of it shouldn’t be talks for the sake of talks,” he said, while warning that Pyongyang would face stronger sanctions if “provocations” continued.

North Korea ramped up missile launches last year and conducted its sixth and most powerful nuclear test, resulting in a US-led campaign to impose some of the strongest international sanctions yet, which Pyongyang dubbed an “act of war”.

Trump and Kim have exchanged threats and insults over the past year, raising fears of war on the peninsula. South Korea and the United States are technically still at war with the North after the 1950-53 Korean conflict ended with a truce, not a peace treaty.

Washington and Seoul opened the way for the talks last week when they announced the postponement of joint military exercises that Pyongyang has denounced as a rehearsal for invasion.

Washington had raised concerns that Kim’s New Year overture to Seoul that led to the talks could drive a wedge between the allies, but Moon said his government and Washington did not differ over how to respond to North Korean threats.

“This initial round of talks is for the improvement of relations between North and South Korea. Our task ... is to draw North Korea to talks aimed at the denuclearization of the North,” Moon said. “(It’s) our basic stance that will never be given up.”

North Korea’s official Rodong Sinmun newspaper said all problems would be resolved through efforts by the Korean people alone.

“If the North and South abandon external forces and cooperate together, we will be able to fully solve all problems to match our people’s needs and our joint prosperity,” it said.

In spite of the hopeful words about the potential for future talks, the US intelligence assessment of the North’s weapons programs has not altered, officials say.

US officials familiar with the classified analysis say the consensus is that Kim remains convinced that the United States is determined to overthrow him and that only a nuclear arsenal that threatens America can deter that.

One official said the North-South talks were likely to follow the pattern of past diplomatic efforts, in which the North has benefited from additional food and other aid without making concessions.

Lee Woo-young, a professor at Seoul’s University of North Korean Studies, said it was wise of Moon to praise Trump.

“By doing that, he can help the US build logic for moving toward negotiations and turning around the state of affairs in the future, so when they were ready to talk to the North, they can say the North came out of isolation because the sanctions were effective.”

The United States and Canada are due to host a conference of about 20 foreign ministers next week in Vancouver to discuss North Korea, without the participation of China, Pyongyang’s sole major ally and biggest trade partner.

China would not attend and was resolutely opposed to it, its foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang said.

“It will only create divisions within the international community and harm joint efforts to appropriately resolve the Korean peninsula nuclear issue,” he said.