South Korea's President Moon Jae In says US should lower threshold for North Korea talks

South Korean President Moon Jae In (right) meets with Chinese Vice Premier Liu Yandong at the presidential Blue House in Seoul, on Feb 26, 2018.
South Korean President Moon Jae In (right) meets with Chinese Vice Premier Liu Yandong at the presidential Blue House in Seoul, on Feb 26, 2018.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

SEOUL (REUTERS) - South Korean President Moon Jae In said on Monday (Feb 26) the United States and North Korea should both give ground so they can sit down to talks to try to resolve the crisis over North Korea’s weapons programme, a day after Pyongyang expressed willingness for dialogue.

US President Donald Trump, who has been pushing a global sanctions campaign against North Korea to force it to give up development of nuclear missiles capable of hitting the United States, reiterated that he would like to have talks with Pyongyang, but only if the conditions were right.

“They want to talk. We want to talk also, only under the right conditions. Otherwise we’re not talking,” Trump said while hosting a meeting with state governors at the White House.

"We’ll see what happens. That’s my attitude, we’ll see what happens.”

The United States has insisted that any future talks with North Korea must be aimed at that country’s denuclearisation, something Pyongyang has rejected.

South Korea has engaged in a flurry of talks with North Korean officials since January, hoping to use the South’s just-concluded Winter Olympics as a catalyst for rapprochement.

“Recently, North Korea has shown it is open to actively engaging the United States in talks and the United States is talking about the importance of dialogue,” Moon said during a meeting in Seoul with Chinese Vice-Premier Liu Yandong.

“There is a need for the United States to lower the threshold for talks with North Korea, and North Korea should show it is willing to denuclearise. It’s important the United States and North Korea sit down together quickly,” he said, according to a statement from his office.

Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un have exchanged bellicose taunts in the past year, raising fears of war, although the Trump administration has repeatedly said it prefers a diplomatic solution to the crisis.

On Friday, Washington announced its largest package of sanctions yet on North Korea, and Trump warned of a “phase two” that could be “very, very unfortunate for the world” if the steps did not work – an apparent reference to military options his administration says remain on the table.

North Korea condemned the new sanctions and accused Washington of trying to undermine the improvement in inter-Korean relations.

NORTH KOREAN DELEGATION

A high-level delegation from North Korea has been visiting Seoul and meeting South Korean officials, including Moon, after attending the Olympics’ closing ceremony on Sunday.

South Korea said the delegation told Moon that North Korea was open to talks with Washington.

 

The North Koreans attended a dinner hosted by Unification Minister Cho Myong-gyon, where participants agreed to keep working to boost inter-Korean ties.

Unification Ministry spokesman Baik Tae-hyun said he hoped constructive talks between North Korea and the United States could begin when “an appropriate opportunity” arose.

The North Korean delegation, led by former military intelligence chief Kim Yong Chol, met Chung Eui-yong, security adviser for the presidential Blue House, and other South Korean government officials for lunch on Monday.

Kim Yong Chol has been accused by South Korea of being behind the sinking of a South Korean warship in 2010 that killed 46 sailors and has been the subject of protests since his visit was announced. North Korea has denied the allegations.

“Both sides agreed to work together for permanent peace on the Korean peninsula, sustainable relations between North and South Korea and balanced cooperation with the international society,” the South’s presidential office said in a statement.

Kim Yong Chol and his delegation will leave on Tuesday, just as North and South Korean officials gather on the North’s side of the Panmunjom truce village to discuss Pyongyang’s attendance at the Pyeongchang Winter Paralympics.

Hundreds of right-wing protesters gathered in central Seoul on Monday to criticize Moon and his administration for hosting the North Koreans, Kim Yong Chol in particular.

His visit has particularly enraged families of the sailors killed in the torpedo attack.