Top US, South Korean and Japanese officials have discussed how to achieve the denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula during weekend talks ahead of upcoming inter-Korean and US-North Korean summits, Seoul said.
South Korean officials who visited Pyongyang recently said North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has agreed to hold talks with South Korean president Moon Jae-in in late April. Seoul said Mr Kim also proposed meeting President Donald Trump.
Mr Trump then agreed to meet Mr Kim by the end of May, but North Korea has yet to confirm talks with the US.
The developments have raised hopes for a potential breakthrough in the North Korean nuclear crisis. However, many experts say tensions would flare again if the summits fail to make any progress and leave the nuclear issue with few diplomatic options.
US national security adviser HR McMaster met his South Korean and Japanese counterparts, Chung Eui-yong and Shotaro Yachi, in San Francisco for talks over the weekend on denuclearisation and the summits, South Korea’s presidential office said.
They agreed to maintain close trilateral co-operation in the next several weeks and shared a view that it is important not to repeat past mistakes, the statement said. This likely refers to criticism that North Korea previously used disarmament negotiations as a way to ease outside pressure and secure aid while all along secretly pressing its weapons development.
Appearing on CBS’s Face The Nation, South Korean foreign minister Kang Kyung-wha said Mr Kim had “given his word” that he was committed to denuclearisation.
She said: “He’s given his word. But the significance of his word is … quite weighty in the sense that this is the first time that the words came directly from the North Korean supreme leader himself, and that has never been done before.”
Mr Kim’s willingness to negotiate over his nuclear programme is a step forward, but many experts remain sceptical about how sincere he is about giving up a nuclear capability that his country has built for decades, despite toughening international sanctions.
Mr Chung, who headed a high-level delegation to Pyongyang and met Mr Kim during his March 5-6 trip, said North Korea told his delegation it will not need to keep its nuclear weapons if military threats against it are removed and it receives a credible security guarantee.
The North has long maintained such a stance, saying it will not abandon its nuclear weapons unless the United States pulls out its troops from South Korea and Japan and stops regular military drills with South Korea that it views as an invasion rehearsal.
A senior North Korean diplomat, meanwhile, flew to Finland on Sunday for talks with former US officials as well as American and South Korean civilian academics. The meeting, set for Tuesday and Wednesday, is a possible opportunity to examine the North’s sincerity about its denuclearisation pledges.
North Korean officials and former US officials and experts have often held such talks, known as “Track-2”.