WASHINGTON • North Korean officials have told their US counterparts their leader Kim Jong Un is ready to discuss denuclearisation, an assurance that could pave the way for a planned meeting with President Donald Trump, reports said.
It is the first time Pyongyang has made the offer of a summit directly to Washington, after its invitation was previously conveyed through a South Korean envoy.
"The US has confirmed that Kim Jong Un is willing to discuss the denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula," a Trump administration official told The Wall Street Journal and Washington Post on Sunday.
Washington stunned observers when it announced last month it had agreed to a historic first meeting between Mr Trump and Mr Kim, to be held by the end of next month. The North's offer to meet was delivered to the White House by South Korea's national security adviser Chung Eui Yong, who had met Mr Kim during a visit to Pyongyang days earlier.
But Pyongyang has failed to publicly confirm the offer since, beyond a commentary from its state-run KCNA news agency noting the "dramatic atmosphere for reconciliation" with the South and "a sign of change" with the United States.
This silence had made US officials nervous that Seoul had overstated Pyongyang's willingness to negotiate over its own nuclear arsenal, The Wall Street Journal reported.
Many remain sceptical about the success of the planned summit.
It is scheduled to take place without the months of groundwork that usually precedes such meetings.
CNN reported last Saturday that secret, direct talks paving the way for the summit were under way between North Korean and US intelligence officials, citing anonymous White House sources.
But no specifics have emerged concerning the date or venue of the proposed summit, with a third country such as Mongolia or Sweden under consideration to host the talks, according to multiple reports.
Beyond that, a detailed agenda for the talks will need to be set.
Washington's long-held stance is that it will not accept a nuclear-armed North Korea. That means it wants to see "complete, verifiable and irreversible" denuclearisation - a very high bar.
The North has previously demanded the withdrawal of US troops based in the South and the end of the security alliance between Seoul and Washington - an extraordinary concession that it is hard to imagine any previous US president acceding to.
South Korea yesterday welcomed the reported offer by the North to discuss denuclearisation.
"We are not a directly concerned party since it is... taking place between the US and North Korea, but if the reports are true, we view it positively and welcome it," said Mr Nam Sang Kyu, a spokesman at the South's presidential office.
South Korea will host its own summit later this month between President Moon Jae In and Mr Kim.
The rapprochement on the peninsula was triggered by the South's Winter Olympics, to which the North sent athletes, cheerleaders and Kim's sister as an envoy.