White House: North Korea Open to Discussing End of Nuclear Program

North Korea claims it has developed a hydrogen bomb which can be loaded into a ballistic missile, and released images of Kim Jong-Un inspecting the device at an undisclosed location
KCNA VIA KNS/AFP

White House officials confirmed last week that their North Korean counterparts told them they were open to discussing shutting down their illegal nuclear weapons program. South Korean officials had insisted that the north was open to denuclearization in their recent talks, as well.

U.S. President Donald Trump signaled that he accepted an in-person meeting with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un last month, to occur no later than the end of May. Kim also accepted a meeting with South Korean counterpart Moon Jae-in this month. Neither Trump nor the international community has lifted the unprecedented sanctions placed on North Korea’s economy in response to Kim’s agreement to attend meetings.

The South Korean outlet Yonhap reports that the White House confirmed that talks between the two heads of state may include denuclearization. An unnamed National Security Council spokesperson told Yonhap that North Korean officials have remained in contact with Washington in preparation for next month’s meeting.

North Korean officials have made similar indications for weeks to South Korean contacts. In early March, Kim Jong-un himself reportedly told envoys from Seoul that denuclearization was the “dying wish” of his father, dictator Kim Jong-il.

“Chairman Kim said that even denuclearization could be among the agenda items for talks between North Korea and the U.S.,” a South Korean official present at the lavish Pyongyang banquet, where the remarks occurred, said at the time. “What drew our attention, in particular, is that he made clear that achieving denuclearization is his father’s dying wish and that it has not been changed at all.”

Kim reportedly made similar promises during a meeting with Chinese communist leader Xi Jinping last week. Japanese media reported to Xi that Kim suggested he could abandon his nation’s nuclear weapons program if the United States offered “clear security guarantees and rewards” in exchange. The reports did not specify what sorts of rewards Kim wished to receive from Washington.

Chosun Ilbo, a conservative-leaning South Korean newspaper, added more color to the terms that Kim placed on the table during his meeting with Xi. According to sources who spoke to Japan’s Yomiuri Shimbun, Kim “is ready to allow verification efforts in the progress of nuclear dismantlement ‘actively and in an open manner'” if the U.S. meets his demands to safeguard the longevity of the communist Kim regime.

Kim visited Beijing in late March on an unscheduled, allegedly unofficial visit for a banquet in his honor. It was Kim’s first visit to a foreign country since he became dictator in 2011. At the event, Xi Jinping and wife Peng Liyuan reportedly offered Kim and his wife, Ri Sol-ju, nearly $400,000 in lavish gifts, many which violate international sanctions on luxury goods being given to the North Korean regime. China is by far North Korea’s largest trading partner and closest ally.

The Chinese state media arm Global Times took credit for the news that Kim was open to discussing denuclearization. “The rising rapprochement on the peninsula comes as a result of joint efforts by relevant parties to promote peaceful development and China’s constructive role in the issue,” a column published in the newspaper Monday read. “As a permanent member of the UN Security Council, China is committed to … playing a leading role in resolving the Korean Peninsula issue.”

North Korea is negotiating its meeting with Trump simultaneously with planning the Kim-Moon summit. The Koreas held a “working-level meeting” on Saturday to discuss the details of the April 27 meeting, scheduled to occur on the South side of the border village of Panmunjom. The immediate concern was setting up an inter-Korea hotline for direct discussions when necessary.

Most of the details of the upcoming Trump-Kim meeting remain undecided. High on the list of issues on which to agree is a time and place for them to meet. South Korea’s Joongang Ilbo reports that, in discussions with American officials, North Korean government representatives have attempted to persuade Washington to hold the meeting in Pyongyang. A meeting in Pyongyang would grant the North Koreans major advantages, including complete censorship of media coverage, total control of the optics of the meeting, and manipulation of American officials within their borders.

CIA chief Mike Pompeo, who currently awaits confirmation to assume the role of secretary of state, is reportedly leading talks with the North Koreans.

Joongang suggests that Ulaanbaatar, the capital of Mongolia, has also surfaced as a candidate host city for the meeting.

North Korea’s state media have yet to mention either the upcoming Trump meeting or the potential for denuclearization. During the weekend, columns published in its official media arms instead railed against “imperialist culture,denounced democracy as a way for “a tiny handful of the privileged classes [to] oppress and exploit the overwhelming majority,” and promoted the “unification” of the peninsula under the communist Kim regime.

Follow Frances Martel on Facebook and Twitter.

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