N Korea tells US it is prepared to discuss denuclearisation

WASHINGTON: North Korea has told the United States for the first time that it is prepared to discuss the denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula when North Korean leader Kim Jong Un meets President Donald Trump, a US official said on Sunday.

US and North Korean officials have held secret contacts recently in which Pyongyang directly confirmed its willingness to hold the unprecedented summit, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The communications, still at a preliminary stage, have involved State Department officials talking to North Korea apparently through its United Nations mission, and intelligence officers from both sides using a separate backchannel, the official said.
Until now, the United States had relied mostly on ally South Korea’s assurance of Kim’s intentions.
South Korean envoys visited Washington last month to convey Kim’s invitation to meet. Trump, who has exchanged bellicose threats with Kim in the past year, surprised the world by quickly agreeing to meet Kim to discuss the crisis over Pyongyang’s development of nuclear weapons capable of hitting the United States.
But North Korea has not broken its public silence on the summit, which US officials say is being planned for May. There was no immediate word on the possible venue for the talks, which would be the first ever between a sitting US president and North Korean leader.
The US official declined to say exactly when the US-North Korea communications had taken place but said the two sides had held multiple direct contacts. “The US has confirmed that Kim Jong Un is willing to discuss the denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula?,” said a second US official.
South Korea’s presidential Blue House welcomed the communication between North Korea and the United States, with one official saying the development was “positive”.
“We are aware contact between North Korea and the United States is going well,” said another Blue House official on condition of anonymity.
“We don’t know, however, up to what extent information is being shared between the two.”
On Monday, former UN ambassador John Bolton is due to begin his role as Trump’s national security adviser, while on Thursday Senate confirmation hearings begin for Mike Pompeo, Trump’s nominee for secretary of state. Both have taken hawkish stances on North Korea.
The second South Korean official said the South’s National Security Office head, Chung Eui-yong, could speak with Bolton over the telephone as early as Tuesday.
Questions remain about how North Korea would define denuclearisation, which Washington sees as Pyongyang abandoning its nuclear weapons programme.
North Korea has said over the years that it could consider giving up its nuclear arsenal if the United States removed its troops from South Korea and withdrew its so-called nuclear umbrella of deterrence from South Korea and Japan. — Reuters