(CNSNews.com) – Asked Tuesday to what he attributes Kim Jong-un’s declared willingness to talk, President Trump deadpanned, “Me,” – then went on to say he believes the North Koreans want to talk because of the “very, very strong and very biting” sanctions they are facing.
Speaking during a joint press conference with the Swedish prime minister, Trump said he believes the North Koreans are sincere in their stated desire for dialogue.
“I hope they’re sincere,” he added. “We’re going to soon find out.”
The outcome of the first formal talks ever between South Korean officials and Kim are generating optimism in Seoul, but Vice President Mike Pence in a guarded response stated that U.S. policy towards the Stalinist regime won’t change “until we see credible, verifiable, and concrete steps toward denuclearization.”
“Whichever direction talks with North Korea go, we will be firm in our resolve,” Pence said in a statement. “The United States and our allies remain committed to applying maximum pressure on the Kim regime to end their nuclear program.”
“All options are on the table and our posture toward the regime will not change until we see credible, verifiable, and concrete steps toward denuclearization,” added the vice president, who used the opportunity of attending the Winter Olympics opening in South Korea last month to highlight Pyongyang’s belligerence and human rights abuses.
The head of the South Korean delegation, national security advisor Chung Eui-yong, said on returning from the two-day talks that Kim expressed himself willing to abandon his nuclear ambitions in return for security guarantees, and to hold “candid” talks with the U.S. on denuclearization and normalizing bilateral ties.
“The North side clearly affirmed its commitment to the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula and said it would have no reason to possess nuclear weapons should the safety of its regime be guaranteed and military threats against North Korea removed,” Seoul’s Yonhap news agency quoted Chung as telling a press conference.
While talks are underway, he said, Kim pledged not to carry out any nuclear or ballistic missile tests.
Chung said Kim maintained that denuclearization had been the wish of his predecessor and father, Kim Jong-il, who died in late 2011.
The North Korean dictator has also agreed to meet with South Korean President Moon Jae-in. Planned for April, it would be only the third summit between leaders of the democratic South and the communist-ruled North since the peninsula was divided following World War II. (The earlier two were in 2000 and 2007.)
South Korea’s ruling liberal Democratic Party called the outcome of the talks in Pyongyang “dramatic,” said they had exceeded everyone’s expectations, and called for bipartisan support for peace initiatives.
But the conservative opposition Liberty Korea Party voiced skepticism, with a spokesman quoted as saying the regime may be stalling for time and trying to weaken a unified global response to its provocations.
A report by the regime’s KCNA news agency on the meeting between Kim and Seoul’s delegation made no mention of discussions about denuclearization, citing Kim only as speaking about advancing North-South relations and writing “a new history of national reunification.”
U.S. Pacific Command commander Adm. Harry Harris told the House Armed Services Committee last month he does not subscribe to the prevailing view that Kim’s provocative actions are taken to safeguard his regime.
“I do think that he is after reunification [of the peninsula] under a single communist system,” he said.
Over the past year North Korea has carried out its first-ever launches of two intercontinental ballistic missile variants – claiming a capability of reaching the U.S. mainland – detonated its largest nuclear device yet, and in addition conducted a series of intermediate-range ballistic missile tests.
Exactly what its desired removal of “military threats” entails remains to be seen, but Pyongyang has long demanded the withdrawal of U.S. forces from South Korea and an end to joint military exercises between the treaty allies. Both are likely to be non-starters for Washington.
Security guarantees have featured before in ultimately unsuccessful diplomacy with the North.
In 2004, the George W. Bush administration proposed a North Korean commitment to freeze its nuclear programs in return for “provisional” security guarantees from the U.S. and energy aid from partner nations. Those measures would only become permanent once the programs were completely and verifiably dismantled.
An agreement hammered out at “six-party” talks in Beijing the following year included a statement saying that the U.S. “has no intention to attack or invade” North Korea.