South Korean officials prepare to reassure partners ahead of North Korea summit  

  07 March 2018    Read: 1007
South Korean officials prepare to reassure partners ahead of North Korea summit  

South Korean officials who met with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un this week will depart for Washington on Thursday, seeking to reassure their U.S. ally ahead of negotiations about ending Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program and preventing the outbreak of war.

In the first meeting of its kind, the South Korean officials said Kim expressed his willingness to denuclearize the Korean peninsula if his country’s security is assured. U.S. President Donald Trump said North Korea seems “sincere” in its apparent willingness to halt nuclear tests if it held denuclearization talks with the United States.

Next month, North Korea and South Korea will have the first meeting between their leaders since 2007 at the border village of Panmunjom, said Chung Eui-yong, head of the South Korean delegation.

Leaders around the world have met the apparent breakthrough with guarded optimism, wary of repeating past negotiations that failed to prevent Pyongyang from developing nuclear weapons and intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs).

Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said on Wednesday it was “extremely important” that North Korea show its commitment and concrete actions toward abandonment of its nuclear missile development in a complete, verifiable and irreversible way.

Chung, South Korea’s National Security Office, head has close contacts in the United States, and National Intelligence Service chief Suh Hoon, who is known as South Korea’s top North Korea negotiator, will be making the trip to Washington on Thursday.

Chung said he had a message from Kim Jong Un he will relay to U.S. officials but it was not clear whether he would me with Trump.

After returning from the United States, the South Korean officials will split up and Chung will visit China and Russia, while Suh will head to Japan to speak to officials in the respective countries on the latest detente with North Korea.

Trump told reporters in the Oval Office the United States had “come a long way, at least rhetorically” with North Korea and “statements coming out of South Korea and North Korea have been very positive.”

Asked if he had any preconditions for talks, Trump said, “I don’t want to talk about it. We’re going to see what happens.”

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence said the United States would continue to apply “maximum pressure” on North Korea and that all options were “on the table” until Washington sees evidence that the reclusive country was taking steps toward denuclearization.

Keeping up the pressure, the U.S. State Department said on Tuesday it had determined Pyongyang used the chemical warfare agent VX to assassinate Kim Jong Un’s half-brother in Malaysia in 2017 and had imposed sanctions in response.

The prohibitions appeared largely symbolic as the United States has no relations with North Korea and has already imposed a number of strict sanctions on the country.

Chinese state-run tabloid the Global Times published an editorial warning the Korean nuclear issue cannot be solved without China, Russia and the United Nations Security Council.

“The reality is that North Korea now has an intercontinental ballistic missile that can allegedly hit targets in the U.S.,” the paper wrote. “No one can intimidate anyone. Negotiation is the only way out.”

China on Tuesday encouraged North and South Korea to continue reconciliation efforts.

More than 18 hours after Seoul made the announcement, there was no comment from Pyongyang.

Markets reacted positively to the prospect of talks and a lowering in geopolitical tensions.

Shares in South Korean companies with exposure to North Korea rallied on signs of a thaw in relations, while companies in the defense market saw their shares dip.

North and South Korea are technically still at war because their 1950-53 conflict ended in a truce, not a peace treaty. The North defends its weapons programs as necessary to counter U.S. aggression. The South hosts 28,500 U.S. troops, a legacy of the war.


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