WASHINGTON—North Korea has told the United States for the first time that it is prepared for their meeting to discuss its promise of denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula when North Korean leader Kim Jong Un meets President Donald Trump, a U.S. official said on Sunday.
U.S. and North Korean officials have held secret contacts recently in which Pyongyang directly confirmed its willingness to hold the unprecedented summit, the official told Reuters, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The communications, still at a preliminary stage, have involved State Department officials talking to North Korea apparently through its United Nations mission, and intelligence officers from both sides using a separate backchannel, the official said.
Until now, the United States had relied mostly on ally South Korea’s assurance of Kim’s intentions.
South Korean envoys visited Washington last month to convey Kim’s wish to meet President Trump, who agreed to meet Kim only after North Korea promised to denuclearize. Kim’s announcement came after further sanctions were imposed by the international community in a campaign of maximum pressure led by the United States.
The proposed meeting between North Korea and the United States represents a major step forward in resolving the crisis over Pyongyang’s development of nuclear weapons that Kim has threatened are capable of hitting the mainland United States.
North Korea has yet to break its public silence on the summit, which U.S. officials say is being planned for May. There was no immediate word on the possible venue for the talks, which would be the first ever between a sitting U.S. president and North Korean leader.
The U.S. official declined to say exactly when the U.S.-North Korea communications had taken place but said the two sides had held multiple direct contacts.
South Korea’s presidential Blue House welcomed the communication between North Korea and the United States, with one official saying the development was “positive”.
“We are aware contact between North Korea and the United States is going well,” said another Blue House official on condition of anonymity.
“We don’t know, however, up to what extent information is being shared between the two.”
On Monday, former U.N. ambassador John Bolton is due to begin his role as Trump’s national security adviser, while on Thursday Senate confirmation hearings begin for Mike Pompeo, Trump’s nominee for secretary of state. Both have taken clear stances on North Korea.
The second South Korean official said the South’s National Security Office head, Chung Eui-yong, could speak with Bolton over the telephone as early as Tuesday.
Tension over North Korea’s tests of nuclear weapons and ballistic missile surged last year and raised fears of U.S. military action against Pyongyang.
But anxieties have eased significantly since Kim announced his promise to denuclearize following the Winter Olympics in South Korea in February. The Koreas are technically still at war after a 1950-53 conflict ended with a ceasefire, not a truce.
North and South Korea will hold their first summit in more than a decade towards the end of April.
The two Koreas have been holding working talks since March to work out details of the summit, like the agenda and security for the two leaders.
Kim met Chinese President Xi Jinping in a surprise visit to Beijing at Xi’s invitation in late March, in which Kim vowed to denuclearize in exchange for a pledge from Xi that China would remain North Korea’s ally. The visit was Kim’s first trip outside the isolated North Korea since he came to power in 2011.
By Matt Spetalnick and David Brunnstrom