Feeling the pressure of sanctions, North Korea seems "sincere" in its apparent willingness to halt nuclear tests if it held denuclearisation talks with the United States, President Donald Trump said on Tuesday, 6 March, as US, South Korean and Japanese officials voiced skepticism about any discussions.
Trump declined to say whether he had any preconditions for talks with Pyongyang as officials in the United States, South Korea, Japan and China responded with caution and guarded optimism to the possibility following months of insults and threats of war between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
At a news conference after meeting with Prime Minister Stefan Lofven of Sweden, which represents US interests in North Korea, Trump said:
I think that they are sincere. And I think they’re sincere also because of the sanctions and what we’re doing with respect to North Korea, including the great help that we’ve been given from China.Donald Trump
Word of possible talks was delivered by a South Korean delegation on its return from a first-ever meeting with North Korean leader Kim in Pyongyang on Monday, 5 March.
We are open minded, we look forward to hearing more. But...the North Koreans have earned our skepticism, so we’re a bit guarded in our optimism.A senior Trump administration official
The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said "our posture toward the regime will not change until we see credible moves toward denuclearisation."
Routine US military exercises with allies in the region would resume, the official said. The next US-South Korean exercises are expected in April.
Some US and South Korean officials said a breakthrough on the Trump administration's top national-security challenge remained unlikely after the failure of previous talks, adding that North Korea may be trying to buy time to develop its weapons programs and seek relief from punishing American and UN sanctions.
More than 10 hours since Seoul made the announcement, there was no comment from Pyongyang.
Earlier, Trump told reporters in the Oval Office as he met with Lofven that the United States had "come a long way, at least rhetorically" with North Korea and "statements coming out of South Korea and North Korea have been very positive."
Asked if he had any preconditions for talks, Trump said, "I don't want to talk about it. We're going to see what happens."
US Vice President Mike Pence said the United States would continue to apply "maximum pressure" on North Korea and that all options were "on the table" until Washington sees evidence that the reclusive country was taking steps toward denuclearization.
Lofven said Sweden could provide a channel for the main parties grappling with the North Korea nuclear issue because of its longtime diplomatic relations with Pyongyang.
Next month, North Korea and South Korea will have the first meeting between their leaders since 2007 at the border village of Panmunjom, said Chung Eui-yong, head of the South Korean delegation
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 Eui-yong told a media briefing
Chung cited North Korea as saying it would not carry out nuclear or missile tests while talks with the international community were under way. North Korea has not carried out any such tests since last November. North Korea also is willing to discuss normalizing ties with the United States, Chung said.
China encouraged North and South Korea to continue reconciliation efforts.
In Washington, US intelligence officials said it was too early to assess North Korea's willingness on denuclearization.
“Hope springs eternal but we need to learn a lot more relative to these talks. And we will," US Director of National Intelligence, Dan Coats told a Senate Armed Services hearing.
Lieutenant General Robert Ashley, director of the US Defense Intelligence Agency, told the same hearing he did not share a sense of optimism, adding, "That's kind of a 'show me,' and so we'll see how this plays out."
(This article has been published in arrangement with Reuters)