Russia says North Korea taking steps towards denuclearisation, calls for US to freeze military drills

Russia's deputy foreign minister Igor Morgulov said North Korea's current pause in provocations - the longest since last winter - indicates a step toward denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula.
Russia's deputy foreign minister Igor Morgulov said North Korea's current pause in provocations - the longest since last winter - indicates a step toward denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

SEOUL (BLOOMBERG) - Russia's deputy foreign minister said North Korea's current pause in provocations - the longest since last winter - indicates a step toward denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula.

"I think North Korea's restraint for the past two months is within the simultaneous freeze road map" suggested by China and Russia, Mr Igor Morgulov told reporters in Seoul on Monday (Nov 27).

Russian and Chinese foreign ministers proposed in July a "double freezing" initiative, under which North Korea refrains from missile and nuclear tests, and the US and South Korea halt large-scale military exercises.

The US has rejected this proposal, arguing that its drills are defensive in nature. Earlier this month, it carried out its first exercise in a decade using three aircraft carriers in the region, and plans to conduct drills with South Korea's air force in early December.

North Korea's last provocation was on Sept 15, when it fired its second missile over Japan in as many months. The 73-day pause is the longest since a 116-day break between October 2016 and February.

Mr Morgulov, Russia's deputy minister responsible for relations with East and South Asia, said that following a "freeze for freeze", the next step would be to hold exchanges with Pyongyang.

Once North Korea agrees to a moratorium on testing and talks are taking place, the process can move to discussion of denuclearisation, he said.

"We will have to see a certain change of attitude of the US, especially on freezing or reducing" its military drills, Mr Morgulov said.

"It'll be difficult for us to play the role of persuading North Korea" not to provoke anymore without a change in the US position, he added.

Earlier this month, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said he can envision the US and North Korea agreeing to hold talks at some point as a precursor to formal negotiations.

Speaking in Seoul on Nov 7, US President Donald Trump called for North Korea to "make a deal" on its nuclear and ballistic missile programmes.

But in an address to South Korea's Parliament the following day, he reverted to his fiery rhetoric, calling North Korean leader Kim Jong Un a "deranged tyrant" and noting that the US had three aircraft carriers in the region.