SEOUL • South Korea is dispatching a delegation led by senior security officials for a two-day visit to North Korea starting today, the presidential Blue House announced yesterday, as US President Donald Trump hinted that he is ready to talk to Pyongyang.
For its part, North Korea said it was not begging to talk with Washington and denounced the upcoming US-South Korean joint military exercises, warning that it would take countermeasures against the United States if they went ahead.
The drills will take place next month, according to the Yonhap news agency. They had been delayed until after the Winter Olympics and Paralympic games in South Korea.
South Korea's Blue House said in a statement that National Security Office head Chung Eui Yong and National Intelligence Service chief Suh Hoon, a veteran of past negotiations with the North, will be among the 10-member South Korean delegation visiting Pyongyang. The visit is part of an effort to lower tensions on the Korean peninsula as well as possibly arrange talks between North Korea and the US, it said.
After the visit to North Korea, the envoys will travel to the US to brief officials. Seoul said it would also coordinate closely with officials in Japan and China.
During a joke-filled monologue at a dinner with journalists in Washington on Saturday, Mr Trump suggested that the US would be meeting North Korea but has told Pyongyang it must first "denuke".
"We will be meeting and we'll see if anything positive happens," he added. It was unclear if Mr Trump was joking or if formal US-North Korean talks were imminent.
In Beijing, Vice-Foreign Minister Zhang Yesui yesterday said China hoped the US and North Korea could begin dialogue too.
North Korea reiterated on Saturday that it was willing to talk to the US but said it would "never sit with any precondition". A North Korean foreign ministry spokesman was quoted by KCNA news agency as saying "we will neither beg for dialogue nor evade the military option claimed by the US".
The Winter Olympics in South Korea's Pyeongchang last month gave a boost to recent engagement between the two Koreas after more than a year of rising tensions over the North's missile programme and its sixth and largest nuclear test in defiance of United Nations sanctions.
South Korean President Moon Jae In hopes to capitalise on that thaw in relations by arranging talks over North Korea's nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programme.
During a phone call on Thursday, Mr Moon told Mr Trump of his plan to send a special envoy to North Korea in response to an invitation from the North's leader Kim Jong Un. He said he was seeking to reciprocate Mr Kim's decision to send a senior delegation, including his sister Kim Yo Jong, to the Olympics.
The White House has said any talks with North Korea must lead to an end of its nuclear programme. Last month it said it was imposing its largest package of sanctions to pressure North Korea to give up its nuclear and missile programmes.