Kim Yong-chol, vice chairman of the Workers’ Party of North Korea, said North Korean leader Kim Jong-un wanted to improve ties with Washington and had “ample intentions of holding talks” with the US, the South Korean presidential office said in a statement Sunday.
The North’s delegation led by Kim Yong-chol also agreed that “South-North relations and US-North Korean relations should be improved together,” the statement said.
Kim made the remarks during a meeting with President Moon Jae-in for about an hour in PyeongChang, Gangwon Province.
Expression itself of a willingness to open talks is a rare step toward diplomacy, but the possibility of dialogue happening soon looks distant.
The White House said it would wait and see whether the new overture by the North for talks means it is serious about denuclearization.
Moon is said to have mentioned the North’s nukes when he met with Kim Yong-chol. Kim’s remarks will be worth considering, in that Moon told him he wanted the South-North dialogue to lead to North Korea-US talks on denuclearization and then Kim expressed the North’s willingness to open talks with the US.
But, Pyongyang needs to send a clear message that it is willing to talk about denuclearization.
There would be no reason to oppose dialogue. Even exploratory talks are not without meaning, but Washington has emphasized many times that it will hold talks only when they deal with denuclearization.
The US message is simple and firm. President Donald Trump remains committed to denuclearizing the peninsula, and his “maximum pressure campaign” against North Korea will continue until it abandons its nuclear and missile programs.
Washington had leveled its “heaviest sanctions ever” against Pyongyang on Saturday, a day before Moon met with Kim Yong-chol, targeting the regime’s shipping and trading abilities. Trump said if the sanctions don’t work, a “phase two” would be “a very rough thing” and may be “very unfortunate for the world.” This means Washington will not let up until Pyongyang comes forward to denuclearization talks and that probably it will choose a military option if the North conducts a nuclear or ballistic missile test.
The US allowed exceptions from its sanctions against the North during the Olympics and also agreed to put off the joint US-Korea military exercises as the South requested, but will resume the “maximum pressure” after the games.
Probably Kim Jong-un is well aware of the White House positions on talks. The North must send messages of his willingness to eliminate its nuclear weapons if it is willing to open talks.
The North Korean leader must know that North Korea will get nothing from the US unless it scraps its nukes. The government in Seoul must hold fast to the same position. Moon must not try to bend the principle to advance inter-Korean summit talks or arrange dialogue between Pyongyang and Washington.
The North’s peace offensive and double dealing have not changed.
On the one hand, it tries to get closer to the South on the pretext that Koreans in the South and North are the same nation, but on the other hand, what is on its mind is how to use the South as leverage to ease sanctions or break the US-Korea alliance.
A day before Moon met Kim Yong-chol, Rodong Sinmun, the ruling party newspaper of North Korea, said, “Hoping for North Korea to give up on its nukes is more foolish than waiting for the sea to dry up.” On the day they met, the newspaper reiterated threats over the Korea-US joint military exercises, which are to resume after the end of the Olympics.
Korea must be denuclearized peacefully, but South Korea must not rush dialogue if the North has not met the conditions set for opening the talks.