Donald Trump hails potential Korea talks, credits his firm stance

US President Donald Trump seemingly took credit for the high-level talks set for next week between North and South Korea.
US President Donald Trump seemingly took credit for the high-level talks set for next week between North and South Korea.PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - US President Donald Trump on Thursday (Jan 4) called potential talks between North and South Korea “a good thing” and the South Korean presidency said he had agreed there would be no military drills with South Korea during next month’s Winter Olympics.

South Korea’s Presidential Blue House said Trump told South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in in a telephone call that he hoped inter-Korean talks would lead to good results and that he would send a high-level delegation, including members of his family, to the Winter Olympics, which will be held in South Korea.

In a tweet ahead of the South Korean statement, Trump hailed potential talks between North Korea and South Korea as “a good thing” and took credit for any dialogue after Seoul and Pyongyang this week signalled willingness to speak.

“Does anybody really believe that talks and dialogue would be going on between North and South Korea right now if I wasn’t firm, strong and willing to commit our total ‘might’ against the North,” Trump tweeted, adding that “talks are a good thing!”

Asked about the suspension in drills, Pentagon spokesman Colonel Rob Manning said: “The Department of Defence supports the President’s decision and what is in the best interest of the (South Korea)-US alliance.”

North Korea has for long denounced US-South Korean joint military exercises as preludes to invasion.

US officials had earlier responded coolly to North Korea’s suggestion of talks with the State Department saying Pyongyang “might be trying to drive a wedge” between Washington and Seoul.

And the head of US forces in South Korea warned on Thursday against raising hopes over North Korea’s peace overture amid a war of words over North Korea’s development of nuclear tipped missiles capable of hitting the United States.

Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un have exchanged a series of bellicose comments in recent months, raising alarm across the world, with Trump at times dismissing the prospect of a diplomatic solution to a crisis in which both sides have threatened to destroy each other.

In a New Year address, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said he was open to dialogue with US ally South Korea and could send a delegation to the Winter Olympics.

Kim also warned that he would push ahead with “mass producing” nuclear warheads in defiance of UN Security Council sanctions and warned that the entire United States was in range of North Korean nuclear missiles and a nuclear button was always on his desk.

Trump responded by mocking Kim as “Little Rocket Man” and saying that his nuclear button was bigger and more powerful and worked.

Seoul answered the North Korean talks overture by proposing high-level talks at a border village next week and on Wednesday, the two Koreas reopened a border hotline that had been closed since February 2016.

The commander of US Forces Korea (USFK), General Vincent Brooks, said the overture was a strategy to divide five countries – the United States, South Korea, China, Japan and Russia – to reach its goal of being accepted as a “nuclear capable” nation, South Korea’s Yonhap news agency reported.

“We must keep our expectations at the appropriate level,” he was quoted as saying in an address to a university in Seoul.

“We can’t ignore that reality,” he said, adding it was important for the United States and South Korea to maintain an “ironclad and razor sharp” alliance.

The five countries mentioned by Brooks were involved in years of on-again-off-again “six-party talks” with North Korea aimed at resolving the crisis, negotiations which eventually fizzled when North Korea pulled out.

North Korea says its weapons are necessary to counter US aggression. The United States stations 28,500 troops in the South, a legacy of the 1950-53 Korean War.

Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said on Thursday the security crisis posed by North Korea to Japan was the most perilous since World War Two and he vowed to bolster defences.

On Tuesday, Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the United Nations, said Washington would not take any talks between North and South Korea seriously if they did not contribute to denuclearising North Korea.

She also said Washington was hearing reports that Pyongyang might be preparing to fire another missile and warned of even tougher steps in response if it did so.