OSLO -- North Korean officials began informal talks with a group of American experts in Oslo, Norway, amid speculation that Washington may seek dialogue with Pyongyang, diplomatic sources said Tuesday.
It's their first Track II meeting in half a year. The previous session was held in Geneva, Switzerland.
Dialogue between North Korean government officials and US civilian experts opened on Monday in a suburb of Oslo and it will continue through Tuesday (local time), a source said.
This composite image provided by Yonhap News TV shows North Korean diplomats Choe Son-hui (left), head of the foreign ministry's North America bureau, and Jang Il-hoon, deputy ambassador to the UN. (Yonhap)
The North Korean delegation is reportedly led by Choe Son-hui, director-general of the North America bureau chief of the communist nation's foreign ministry. Her counterpart is Suzanne DiMaggio, director and senior fellow at New America, a think tank based in Washington DC, according to another source.
DiMaggio is known as an Iran specialist well versed in the Obama administration's nuclear talks with the Middle Eastern nation.
This week's meeting comes amid a let-up in military tensions on the Korean Peninsula. The North did not conduct a nuclear test or a long-range rocket launch in April despite a view that it may take such a provocative act to mark a series of key political events in the month.
In South Korea, its people are about to pick their new president, with expectations running high over a change of mood in inter-Korean ties that have long been frosty.
The US government will not attach any special meaning to the Track II dialogue.
"Track-two meetings are routinely held on a variety of topics around the world and occur independent of US government involvement," a State Department official said.
But North Korea watchers took note of the timing of the meeting this time, saying it may provide the two sides with a chance for a type of "exploratory" talks.
The venue is also symbolic. Norway is known for efforts to promote peace in the world, as demonstrated in the Oslo Accords, a set of peace agreements signed in 1993 and between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization.
Norway facilitated the historic deal that marked the start of the Oslo process, a peace initiative aimed at achieving a peace treaty.
Pope Francis stated last month that a third country, like Norway, should mediate between North Korea and the US to resolve their stand-offs.
US President Donald Trump (left) and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un are both shown on either side of a 3D outline of North Korea skinned with the North Korean flag. (Yonhap)
US President Donald Trump often talks tough about North Korea, emphasizing the need to put more pressure on the Kim Jong-un regime.
He recently said, however, he would meet Kim "under the right circumstances."
"If it would be appropriate for me to meet with him, I would absolutely, I would be honored to do it," Trump said in a Bloomberg interview earlier this month.
Citing diplomatic sources, Japan's Kyodo news service offered some details of the preconditions set by Trump.
He reportedly told China that he is open to meeting Kim in the U.S. if the North abandons its ambitions for weapons of mass destruction.
"The idea is part of a set of proposals that the United States floated during recent discussions with Chinese officials on how best to deal with the North Korean nuclear issue," Kyodo reported.
If the North scraps its nuclear and missile programs, according to the U.S. proposals, the Trump administration would not seek a regime change, regime collapse, an "accelerated" reunification of the two Koreas, or American troops' advance northwards to cross the inter-Korean border, said Kyodo.
China apparently conveyed the message to Pyongyang, it added, while many observers are skeptical about any significant denuclearization deal between the two sides.
South Korean government officials said the Kyodo report seems untrue.
"It's an issue that the US side will have to confirm. But as far as we know, it's not true," a foreign ministry official in Seoul said.
Since the launch of the Trump administration, the allies are maintaining watertight coordination on the North Korea issue through an "unprecedented" level of bilateral communications in frequency and intensity, he added, indicating that Washington would not have made such an important offer without consultation with Seoul. (Yonhap)