SEOUL—North Korea is willing to hold talks with the United States on denuclearization and will suspend nuclear tests while those talks are under way, the South said on Tuesday after a delegation returned from the North where it met leader Kim Jong Un.
North and South Korea will also hold their first summit in more than a decade next month at the border village of Panmunjom, the head of the delegation, Chung Eui-yong, told a media briefing.
“North Korea made clear its willingness to denuclearize the Korean peninsula and the fact there is no reason for it to have a nuclear programme if military threats against the North are resolved and its regime is secure,” the head of the delegation, Chung Eui-yong, told a media briefing.
He also cited the North as saying it would not carry out nuclear or missile tests while talks with the United States were underway. North Korea has not carried out any such tests since November last year.
North Korea has regularly vowed never to give up its nuclear programme.
Following the tightening of international sanctions, proposed by U.S. president Donald Trump, North Korea started to open up diplomatic channels with South Korea, sending athletes and delegates to the Winter Olympics.
To ensure close communication, the two Koreas, whose 1950-53 conflict ended in a mere truce, not a peace treaty, will set up a hotline between South Korean President Moon Jae-in and Kim Jong Un, Chung said.
The last inter-Korean summit was in 2007 when late former president Roh Moo-hyun was in office.
The agreement came on the heels of a visit made by a 10-member South Korean delegation led by Chung to the North Korean capital, Pyongyang, on Monday in hopes of getting North Korea to the negotiating table with the United States.
Kim Jong Un met senior South Korean government officials for the first time and said it was his “firm will to vigorously advance” inter-Korean ties and pursue reunification, the North’s official news agency said.
U.S.-South Korea Drills to go on
North Korea has boasted of developing nuclear-tipped missiles capable of reaching the United States, in defiance of U.N. Security Council resolutions.
The first inter-Korean talks in more than two years were held early this year to bring North Korea to the Winter Olympics, when South Korea and the United States also postponed an annual joint large-scale military exercise that North Korea views as a preparation for invasion.
During this week’s visit, a senior Blue House official said North Korea was informed it was not feasible to postpone the joint military drills between South Korea and the United States again and that Kim Jong Un acknowledged the situation.
Kim Jong Un said he also understood the drills, expected in April, would be of a similar scale seen in previous years, the official said.
The South’s delegation leader, Chung, said he would travel to the United States to explain the outcome of the visit to North Korea and that he had a message from North Korea he will deliver to Trump.
Chung will later visit China and Russia, while Suh Hoon, the head of South Korea’s spy agency and another member of the delegation, will head to Japan.
Both North Korea and the United States have said before they are open to talks but the U.S. position has been that dialogue must be aimed at North Korea’s denuclearization, something Pyongyang has rejected.
Moon has also remained vigilant against North Korea’s weapons ambitions, saying on Tuesday South Korea should bolster its defences in tandem with talks with Pyongyang.
The Pentagon has nevertheless said it was “cautiously optimistic” about the North-South talks, which resumed in January for the first time in two years.