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 told Reuters, 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.
The denuclearisation threat
Until now, Washington 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 Pyongyang 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.
Pakistan knows what it needs to do, says US
“The US has confirmed that Kim Jong Un is willing to discuss the denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula,” said a second US official.
On Monday, former U.N. ambassador John Bolton is due to begin his new 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.
Questions remain about how North Korea would define denuclearisation, which Washington sees as Pyongyang abandoning its nuclear weapons program.
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.
Trump and Kim to hold historic first meeting
Some analysts have said Trump’s willingness to meet Kim handed North Korea a diplomatic win, as the United States had insisted for years that any such summit be preceded by North Korean steps to denuclearize.
Tension over North Korea’s tests of nuclear weapons and ballistic missile surged last year and raised fears of US military action against Pyongyang.
But anxieties have eased significantly since North Korea sent athletes to the Winter Olympics in South Korea in February. The neighbours are technically still at war after a 1950-53 conflict ended with a ceasefire, not a truce.
North and South Korea will hold their first summit in more than a decade towards the end of April.
Kim met Chinese President Xi Jinping in a surprise visit to Beijing in late March, his first trip outside isolated North Korea since he came to power in 2011.