U.S. confirms talks with North

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U.S. confirms talks with North

North Korea confirmed directly to the Donald Trump administration on Sunday that it is willing to negotiate denuclearization, according to multiple White House officials Sunday.

This should pave the way to a summit between President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un possibly next month, and confirms reports that the two countries have opened direct back-channels to prepare for the meeting.

The Wall Street Journal first quoted a Trump administration official as saying that the United States “has confirmed that Kim Jong-un is willing to discuss the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”

Other media outlets confirmed the report, citing senior administration officials saying that Kim offered assurances to Washington that he was willing to discuss the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, breaking a long silence from the North on the issue.

In March, Chung Eui-yong, South Korea’s national security adviser and an envoy of President Moon Jae-in, conveyed to Trump that Kim said he is committed to denuclearization, along with an invitation to talks. Trump accepted this invitation and called for the first-ever U.S-North summit to be held.

Kim again conveyed his commitment to denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula in his surprise first summit with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing at the end of last month, making his international diplomatic debut.

But this marks first time Washington confirmed publicly that Pyongyang directly conveyed its willingness for talks toward potential denuclearization.

A diplomatic source in Washington told the JoongAng Ilbo on Sunday that Trump ordered his administration to “prepare a groundbreaking proposal to put forward at the U.S.-North summit.”

This source said that while the plan cannot be revealed before the summit, many methods are being considered to achieve “a package settlement.”

The source continued, “After negotiating a package settlement, the key task is how to enter the concrete denuclearization stage in the shortest time possible.”

He added that a team is currently working on preparing phased steps toward denuclearization and determining how long that period should be.

“President Trump himself has a lot of ideas on how to lead the summit to success,” said the source, but so long as the negotiation counterpart is North Korea, the plan cannot be revealed.

The source elaborated that in the case a package deal is reached with Pyongyang, the timeline of the completion of denuclearization - whether it is six months, one year, or longer - is interlocked with how long North Korea will take to finalize its re-entry technology for its intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM).

“Information and analysis on what North Korea is not revealing is vital in order to disable the North’s nuclear facilities as quickly as possible, so such work is taking place right now,” said the source.

The source said CNN’s report Saturday of direct, back-channel talks between the United States and the North was correct and that the two sides have held in-depth discussions multiple times. He dismissed the idea that a meeting between Mike Pompeo, director of the Central Intelligence Agency and secretary of state nominee, and his North Korean counterpart, the head of the Reconnaissance General Bureau, was in the works. This could indicate that communication between American and North Korean officials is more focused on the “New York channel” via the U.S. State Department’s diplomatic contacts in the United Nations. Pompeo’s Senate confirmation hearing to become secretary of state kicks off Thursday.

While the United States and North Korea have not yet set a location, time or agenda for the summit, the source said that a location could be decided upon as early as this week, or possibly next week.

The news comes as John Bolton, the former U.S. ambassador to Washington, took his post as Trump’s new national security adviser Monday, replacing H.R. McMaster.

Chung, head of the South Korean National Security Office, has put much effort into strengthening his relationship with the ousted McMaster, and is expected to speak on the phone with Bolton at an early date, according to a Blue House official Monday, to establish a direct hotline. The two have not had “work-related talks yet,” the official added.

Over the weekend, China banned the export to North Korea of some items with potential dual use in weapons of mass destruction.

Late Sunday, the Chinese Ministry of Commerce detailed on its website 32 materials, technologies and forms of equipment with potential use related to weapons of mass destruction, including particle accelerators, centrifuges, software and chemicals.

China’s announcement was in line with United Nations Security Council Resolution 2375 passed last September following North Korea’s sixth nuclear test earlier that month.

The ban of dual-use items is seen as Beijing’s way of increasing its leverage over Pyongyang at a sensitive period and suggests it will continue its economic pressure on the regime.

It also appears to be a message from China that it will comply with international sanctions on the North.

BY SARAH KIM, KIM HYUN-KI [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]
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