North Korea seeks to open talks between Pyongyang and Washington, according to a South Korean envoy who recently returned from North Korea.
Kim Jong Un reportedly said he is willing to negotiate with the U.S. on abandoning his nuclear weapons, also adding that he would suspend all nuclear and missile testing while such talks are underway.
Chung Eui-yong, South Korea’s national security adviser, said in a statement that the North has said there is no reason to possess nuclear weapons if the safety of its regime be guaranteed and military threats against North Korea removed.
The Koreans also agreed to hold a summit meeting between South Korean President Moon Jae-in and Kim Jong Un at the border in late April. Before the meeting the countries will install a hotline, for the first time, where both leaders can talk on the phone directly.
This is the first time under Kim Jong Un’s rule that he has discussed relinquishing his countries nuclear weapons in return for security guarantees from the U.S., following in his father Kim Jong-Il’s footsteps in 2005 when North Korea said they would end their nuclear weapons programs in return for security and energy benefits, but ultimately nothing happened.
President Donald Trump tweeted about the statements saying that “the world is watching” and “May be false hope, but the U.S. is ready to go hard in either direction!”
President Trump may be right about “false hopes”. North Korea has shown no signs of dismantling their nuclear program, which in January of 2003 North Korea withdrew from the NPT and in February reactivated a 5-megawatt nuclear reactor.
In the past, North Korea has made agreements about disabling nuclear facilities but have never followed through and acted. For example, in 2007 under the Bush administration the North Koreans agreed to disable all their nuclear facilities for 950,000 metric tons of fuel oil by the end of that year. But North Korea ended up missing the December 31st deadline giving no explanation.
Kim Jung Un’s offer to South Korea and the U.S. has come after months of mounting sanctions against his regime, which include relisting North Korea as a state sponsor of terrorism, and tightening oil sanctions, both of which removed advantages won by North Korea in previous rounds of failed talks. U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said in mid-January that there is “a lot of evidence that these sanctions are starting to hurt” North Korea.
Observers have credited an increasingly hard line taken by President Trump, who has repeatedly targeted North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un and has warned the U.S. stood ready to take action if necessary, with the recent change in North Korean policy.
Though Kim Jong Un’s willing to negotiate is a positive sign, the history of North Korea’s past negotiations gives little room for optimism.