Now is the ideal time for North Korea to open talks with the US on its nuclear and missile programs, a high-ranking Foreign Ministry official said Wednesday, urging the reclusive regime to return to dialogue.
“Now is the best time. There were not many cases in which the US had its door open for talks (with North Korea),” the official told a group of reporters on condition of anonymity. “While watching the process, the US can shut the door anytime.”
In a departure from its past stance, the US is sending signs that it is ready to talk with the North, he said.
“For the past decade, there were preconditions for the US to sit down and start talks with the North,” he said. “Such conditions have been loosened. Though their rhetoric has been strong, (US Secretary of State Rex) Tillerson signaled that talks could be possible if the North does not make extra provocations, and Trump has also joined in this.”
In a sign of a thaw, North Korea agreed to send a delegation to the PyeongChang Winter Olympics from Feb. 9-25 during inter-Korean high-level talks held on Jan. 9. It marked the first cross-border talks in more than two years.
South Korea is seeking to use the momentum generated by cross-border talks to bring North Korea and the US to the table on resolving the North Korea nuclear weapons crisis and pave the way for easing of tensions on the Korean Peninsula.
“Last year, we could not even talk about a possibility of dialogue. The Olympics are creating a momentum for a thaw in inter-Korean relations, which could lead to US-North Korea talks,” he said.
The official said Seoul is not opposed to Pyongyang having talks with the US first, if such talks could help tackle the North Korea nuclear issue.
“But it is clear that South Korea‘s interests should be reflected and its participation in the process should be guaranteed,” he said. “I believe that the US will guarantee that. That’s why the South Korea-US alliance has been important.”
The official said that international sanctions against North Korea have been effective in slowing Pyongyang’s development of nuclear and missile programs, but that sanctions alone cannot bring North Korea to the negotiating table.
“From now on, dialogue will be as effective as sanctions in delaying the North’s development of its nuclear weapons program,” he said. But he made it clear that Seoul is not seeking to ease sanctions against North Korea to bring it to talks.
Addressing concerns that the South’s support for the North in its participation in the PyeongChang Olympics could violate international sanctions against Pyongyang, he said the government will not stoke controversy.
“Even if there is an inevitable need for us to provide support, we will decide in a transparent manner through consultations with relevant countries and the International Olympic Committee and the sanctions committee (of the UN Security Council),” he said.