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NK leader makes first official mention of dialogue with US

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has briefed top ruling party officials on the prospects for dialogue with the United States, the North’s state media said Tuesday. It marks Kim’s first official comment on the diplomatic overtures he has made toward Seoul and Washington since January.

Kim gave a “profound analysis and appraisal” of inter-Korean ties and potential talks with the US at a meeting of the Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea held Monday, according to the Korean Central News Agency. 

In this April 9, 2018, photo provided by the North Korean government, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un attends a meeting of the Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the Workers` Party of Korea, in Pyongyang, North Korea. (KCNA)
In this April 9, 2018, photo provided by the North Korean government, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un attends a meeting of the Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the Workers` Party of Korea, in Pyongyang, North Korea. (KCNA)

Hours before the report was released, US President Donald Trump said he plans to meet with Kim next month or in early June to “hopefully” reach a deal on the “de-nuking of North Korea.”

Kim also addressed the recent situation surrounding the Korean Peninsula, including details of the fast-approaching summit with President Moon Jae-in scheduled for April 27 at the South Korean side of the truce village of Panmunjeom. This is also the first time the North officially mentioned the inter-Korean summit along with its date and venue.

Although the report did not elaborate on details of the plans for the upcoming summit, it was the most concrete indication to date that Pyongyang is gearing up for what would be the first-ever US-North Korea summit.

US media outlets reported over the weekend that Pyongyang has communicated with the United States via secret, yet direct lines to say that Kim is ready to discuss his nuclear weapons program with Trump, citing unnamed US officials.

The WPK’s political bureau session was held for the first time since February 2015. The North has so far held nine politburo sessions and extended meetings, including the latest one, since Kim rose to power after his father’s death in late 2011, according to the South’s Ministry of Unification.

Kim and ranking party officials have often discussed major policies and their visions for the country at the meetings.

“It is quite rare that North Korea mentioned details about the inter-Korean summit and future dialogue with the US,” a Unification Ministry official said. “North Korea seems to attach meaning to the holding of the WPK meeting by reporting it.”

The official added the North used the term “dialogue” instead of “summit“ to describe its current ties with the US, in consideration of the ongoing discussions between the two nations, and saw it as a sign that the summit date has yet to be set.

Analysts interpret the politburo meeting as a way to showcase the North Korean government’s “rational decision making” ahead of the landmark summits ahead.

“By showing Kim directly briefing the current situation surrounding the Korean Peninsula, it seems like a move to show that North Korea has a very rational decision-making system,” Kim Dong-yub, a professor at Kyungnam University said.

The summits come after special envoys of South Korean President Moon Jae-in visited North Korea and talked with Kim Jong-un last month. The North Korean leader agreed to hold an inter-Korean summit and put denuclearization on the negotiating table with the US.

North Korea’s denuclearization is forecast to be the main agenda item for the inter-Korean summit and the Kim-Trump meeting.

When Kim made his diplomatic debut in Beijing last month, the young leader told Chinese President Xi Jinping that the issue of denuclearization hinges on Seoul and Washington’s “progressive and synchronous” measures.

The WPK meeting falls in the same week as the sixth session of the 13th Supreme People’s Assembly on Wednesday, where top officials mainly discuss the national budget and a personnel reshuffle.

This time, attention is on whether the regime will announce matters related to its ties with the South and the US ahead of the summits.

Although the assembly mostly focuses on national affairs, Pyongyang in recent years has used the sessions to vocalize or hint at its stance on its nuclear program and diplomacy.

North Korea officially added a clause about it being a nuclear state to its constitution during a parliamentary meeting in April 2012 and adopted a law on consolidating its position as a nuclear weapons state for self-defense the following year.

At the April 2017 assembly, North Korea announced the revival of a diplomatic commission for the first time in 19 years to bolster diplomatic ties.

By Jung Min-kyung (mkjung@heraldcorp.com)

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