North Korea expresses willingness to abandon nuclear weapons

UPDATE — 7:13 p.m. EST: In public remarks Thursday evening outside the White House, South Korean national security adviser Chung Eui-yong said North Korea’s Kim Jong-un has agreed to temporarily cease testing nuclear weapons and will meet with President Trump by May.

 

In a stunning turnaround Tuesday, North Korean diplomats hosting a South Korean delegation in Pyongyang expressed readiness to hold talks over relinquishing its nuclear arsenal.

North Korea has long maintained it would not renounce its nuclear stockpile and had previously said it would not agree to negotiations with preconditions.

According to South Korea’s chief delegate, Chung Eui-yong, who met with North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un in North Korea’s capital on Monday, North Korean officials raised the issue of holding talks and asserted a desire to include disarmament in future negotiations.

“North Korea made clear its willingness to denuclearize the Korean peninsula and the fact there is no reason for it to have a nuclear program if military threats against the North are resolved and its regime is secure,” Chung said in a statement following his return to Seoul. 

Chung elaborated further, saying North Korea had vowed not to conduct further missile tests while discussions were held and hinted at wanting to find solutions to improving ties with the United States, including normalization of relations.

Chung did, however, admit North Korea disclosed its most serious concern is security and did seek assurances of safety for the regime.

Additionally, the two nations agreed to hold a high-level summit in April.  The meeting is to take place at the Joint Security Area in Panmunjom, the site at which North and South Korean officials meet.

In a strange development after the North-South talks adjourned, a source close to South Korean officials acknowledged Chung was asked to act as a courier between Pyongyang and Washington, D.C., to deliver a private message to H.R. McMaster

Some speculate the message is an offer to send Kim’s sister, Kim Yo-jong, to lead a North Korean delegation to the United States.

Weary from decades of North Korean zig-zagging, the White House was skeptical, but hopeful.

“We have come certainly a long way, at least rhetorically with North Korea. It would be a great thing for the world, it would be a great thing for North Korea, it would be a great thing for the peninsula,” President Trump told reporters at a White House meeting with Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven.

Trump later tweeted:

Responding to the news report and describing Kim as “calculating,” Director of National Intelligence Dan Coates, said:  “Maybe this is a breakthrough, but I doubt it.”

 

[Deutsche Welle] [South China Morning Post] [Korea Herald] [Photo courtesy Getty Images via CNN]