SEOUL • North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un has acknowledged the prospect of talks with the US, state media reported, in his first official mention of dialogue with Washington ahead of a planned summit with President Donald Trump.
Mr Trump agreed last month to a landmark summit with the nuclear-armed North. But with no specific dates or venue set, there were questions over Pyongyang's intention to participate.
On Monday, Mr Kim discussed "the prospect of the DPRK-US dialogue" with party officials, state news agency KCNA said yesterday, referring to the North by an abbreviation of its official name.
It added that Mr Kim delivered a report "on the development of the recent situation on the Korean peninsula", including the separate summit with South Korea later this month. In a growing rapprochement on the Korean peninsula, Mr Kim is to meet South Korean President Moon Jae In for a rare inter-Korean summit on April 27.
Mr Trump has also agreed to meet Mr Kim to discuss denuclearisation as soon as next month. The summit would be the first between a sitting United States president and a North Korean leader.
But the North was publicly silent for weeks after its leader's invitation to talks was first delivered to Mr Trump by South Korean officials. This fuelled concerns in Washington that Seoul overstated Pyongyang's willingness to negotiate over its own nuclear arsenal, even as officials scrambled to prepare for the prospective meeting.
Mr Kim's remarks break that silence, though he did not specifically refer to a summit with Mr Trump. This follows reports that the North's officials privately told their US counterparts Mr Kim is ready to discuss denuclearisation.
Mr Trump said on Monday that he planned to meet Mr Kim in "May or early June". "I think there will be great respect paid by both parties and hopefully there will be a deal on 'denuking'," he said.
Detailed coverage of Monday's politburo meeting chaired by Mr Kim - held two days before the annual session of the North's rubber-stamp Parliament - is unusual and could indicate his desire to project an image of a functioning political system, an analyst said.
"Kim Jong Un has been shifting from the military-dominated emergency system to a normal party-dominant system," said the University of North Korean Studies' Professor Yang Moo Jin. "North Korea is striving to improve ties with the South and the United States to end its status as a pariah country and establish itself as a normal state."
Pyongyang's diplomatic activity marks a stunning turnaround after a tense year, which saw the North hold nuclear and missile tests, further isolating itself and triggering a war of words with Mr Trump.
Mr Kim sent a high-profile delegation to the Winter Games in the South in February, before making his international debut last month with a visit to Beijing - his first trip abroad since taking power in 2011.
Even if the Kim-Trump summit were to take place, many remain sceptical about whether it can succeed. It is scheduled to take place without the usual months of groundwork. No specifics have emerged on a date or venue, with a third country such as Mongolia or Sweden reportedly under consideration to host the talks. And beyond that, a detailed agenda must be set.