North Korea’s Kim Yong-chol on Monday reiterated his country’s willingness to directly engage the US, as South Korean President Moon Jae-in rallied support from China.
According to South Korea’s presidential office, Kim “stated numerous times” that Pyongyang has intentions to hold talks with the US during his meeting with Seoul’s National Security Council chief Chung Eui-yong.
Kim Yong-chol, vice chairman of the North's ruling Workers' Party, attends the closing ceremony for the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics which took place on Sunday at the PyeongChang Olympic Stadium. (Yonhap)
Kim, former head of the North’s spy agency and the suspected mastermind of the 2010 attack on the South Korean Navy ship Cheonan, had first made the revelation at a meeting with Moon on Sunday.
Kim is in the South as the head of the North’s delegation to the closing ceremony of the PyeongChang Olympics.
Seoul’s presidential office also said that Chung and Kim discussed inter-Korean issues, and agreed to seek further cooperation.
“The two sides agreed to cooperate toward establishing permanent peace on the Korean Peninsula and sustainable improvements in inter-Korean relations, and cooperation with the international community,” Seoul’s presidential office said in a statement.
Moon, meanwhile, stressed China’s role in facilitating US-North Korea talks, in a move to keep the momentum gained over the PyeongChang Olympics.
Speaking to China’s Vice Premier Liu Yandong, Moon urged Beijing’s support for his efforts to arrange Pyongyang-Washington talks and to restart long-stalled denuclearization talks.
“It is very important to maintain the atmosphere of inter-Korean talks arranged for the Winter Olympics,” Moon said.
“(I) request China’s active support and cooperation for denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, inter-Korean talks for peace, and for North Korea-US talks to achieve such ends.”
President Moon Jae-in speaks with China's Vice Premier Liu Yandong on Monday. Yonhap
This is the second time Moon has urged China to play a bigger role, having expressed such views in his meeting with China’s Politburo Standing Committee member Han Zheng earlier this month.
Moon’s latest comments came a day after his meeting with Kim, during which the South Korean leader reportedly raised the issue of denuclearization.
According to reports, Moon specifically talked of denuclearization, and Kim is said to have listened without raising objections. At the meeting, Kim also said that Pyongyang is open to talks with the US.
While details of the meeting remain undisclosed, it is widely speculated that Moon may have reiterated the idea of North Korea freezing its nuclear program as the first step toward denuclearization.
While the Donald Trump administration has stressed numerous times that it will engage Pyongyang only when denuclearization is on the table, local experts say the two sides should first begin dialogue.
“The difference in the positions of the US and North Korea on denuclearization is too big -- (hoping) the North will declare denuclearization is expecting too much,” said Kim Hyun-wook, a professor at the Korea National Diplomatic Academy.
“Conditions, which will be satisfactory to both sides, somewhere in between denuclearization and (North Korea being recognized as a) nuclear-armed state must be created.”
Although the North suggested an inter-Korean summit through Kim Yo-jong earlier this month, Moon has yet to give a direct answer, having responded that the two Koreas must work together to establish conditions that would allow such a meeting.
Kim Yo-jong is the sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un who came to the South as her brother’s special envoy as part of a delegation to the opening ceremony of the PyeongChang Olympics.
While North Korea appears willing, at least on the surface, to entertain the idea of dialogue with the US, the White House appears cautious on the issue.
“We will see if Pyongyang’s message today, that it is willing to hold talks, represents the first steps along the path to denuclearization,” the White House said in a statement released Sunday.
“In the meantime, the United States and the world must continue to make clear that North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs are a dead end.”
The White House also said in the statement that “there is a brighter path available for North Korea if it chooses denuclearization.”
By Choi He-suk (firstname.lastname@example.org