US, South Korea mulling over incentives for Kim Jong Un in nuclear talks

The United States and North Korea plan to hold high-level talks in Washington as soon as this week to discuss a second summit of their leaders, following a prolonged stalemate in nuclear talks, South Korean media said on Tuesday.

SEOUL (BLOOMBERG) - The United States and South Korea are discussing "corresponding measures" to reward North Korea's steps towards denuclearisation, South Korea's foreign minister said, as President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un prepare for a possible second summit.

Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha told a news conference on Wednesday (Jan 16) in Seoul that the allies were reviewing various packages of incentives that Washington could bring to the table in the meeting.

While Ms Kang provided few details other than to say restarting stalled business projects were being discussed, the term can cover everything from sanctions relief to moves to formalise the end of the 1950-53 Korean War.

"Between South Korea and the United States, we are closely consulting what kinds of denuclearisation measures should be followed and what the United States and the international community can do as corresponding measures," she told local media at a New Year's news conference. She said she expected nuclear talks to pick up speed.

Negotiations between the US and North Korea have sputtered since Mr Trump and Mr Kim signed an agreement during their first meeting in June to "work toward complete denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula", without defining the phrase or setting any deadlines.

North Korea argues the deal implied a step-by-step approach, where each of its actions are met by US responses, while Trump administration officials assert that Mr Kim accepted his country's "final, fully verified denuclearisation".

Mr Kim warned in his New Year's address earlier this month that he could be forced to take a "new path" in talks if Mr Trump didn't relax sanctions pressure. Mr Kim pressed for US concessions to reward his decisions last year to halt weapons tests and dismantle some testing facilities, without offering additional steps.

"If the United States takes a credible action in response to our proactive and preemptive efforts and responds to the corresponding measures, the relationship between the two countries will move forward at a good and rapid pace through the process of taking more certain and innovative steps is," Mr Kim said on Jan 1.

Ms Kang's remarks come as the US and North Korea prepare for a second summit between the two leaders. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and senior North Korean official Kim Yong Chol are expected to meet on Thursday or Friday in Washington to discuss a second summit between their leaders, CNN and South Korean media reported citing sources familiar with the issue.

Mr Kim Yong Chol, along with North Korea’s vice-foreign minister Choe Son Hui, and a third official, have reservations on a United Airlines flight leaving Beijing on Thursday evening for Washington, South Korea's Yonhap news agency said on Wednesday, citing an unidentified Chinese airport official.

A meeting could mean the two sides are nearing a compromise after months of stand-off over how to move forward in ending North Korea’s nuclear and missile programmes.

While South Korea wasn't independently considering resuming cooperation projects at a North Korean mountain resort or the joint factory park in the North, Ms Kang said such moves were part of the "various combination of corresponding measures being discussed".

Details of the results will be generated during the negotiations between North Korea and the US, she said.