North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, has told South Korean envoys he is willing to negotiate with the United States on abandoning his country’s nuclear weapons, officials from the South said Tuesday. Mr. Kim also said he would suspend all nuclear and missile tests while such talks were underway, they said.
President Trump reacted with guarded optimism to the news, which potentially represented a major defusing of one of the world’s tensest confrontations.
“The North Korean side clearly stated its willingness to denuclearize,” the statement said. “It made it clear that it would have no reason to keep nuclear weapons if the military threat to the North was eliminated and its security guaranteed.”
If the statement is corroborated by North Korea, it would be the first time Mr. Kim has indicated that his government is willing to discuss relinquishing nuclear weapons in return for security guarantees from the United States. Until now, North Korea has said its nuclear weapons were not for bargaining away.
The cautious American reaction partly reflected a history of suspicion toward the motives of North Korea, which has remained an enemy of the United States since the 1950-53 Korean War.
A pattern of what American officials have described as North Korean duplicity in previous talks has repeated itself, with modest variations, during the Clinton, George W. Bush, and Obama administrations. In January 2009, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, who had served under both Mr. Bush and Mr. Obama, summarised the American skepticism about North Korea with an oft-repeated line: “I’m tired of buying the same horse twice.”
Mr. Kim, 34, has accelerated the North’s nuclear and missile tests since inheriting power after his father, Kim Jong-il, died in 2011. Mr. Moon spent most of the past year helplessly watching the Korean Peninsula edge toward possible war as the North test-launched intercontinental ballistic missiles and conducted its most powerful nuclear test yet, while Mr. Trump threatened to rain down “fire and fury” on North Korea.
After launching an intercontinental ballistic missile in November, Mr. Kim claimed to have a “nuclear button” on his desk with which he could fire missiles capable of reaching the mainland United States. American officials say Mr. Kim is getting dangerously close to being able to strike the United States with nuclear-tipped missiles.
Whether this move is a positive departure away from previous defensive international relations between North Korea and the USA, or whether it is merely a ploy to lead the American government into a false sense of security remains to be seen. One thing is for certain, these talks represent a major shift in Western-rogue state relations.