North Korea reportedly willing to hold talks with US

People watch a television news screen showing pictures of US President Donald Trump (C) and North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un (R) at a railway station in Seoul. Jung Yeon-Je/ AFP/ Getty Images
  • A North Korean official reportedly said that the country had “enough” willingness to conduct talks with the US.
  • Kim Yong Chol, North Korea’s vice chairman of the ruling Worker’s Party Central Committee, made the comment to South Korean President Moon Jae In, during his trip to the South.

A high-ranking North Korean official said North Korea has “enough” willingness to conduct talks with the US, according to South Korea’s government on Sunday.

Kim Yong Chol, North Korea’s vice chairman of the ruling Worker’s Party Central Committee and the country’s former intelligence chief, reportedly made the comment during a meeting with South Korean President Moon Jae In during his visit to the 2018 Winter Olympics, according to South Korea’s Yonhap News.

“President Moon pointed out that US-North Korea dialogue must be held at an early date even for an improvement in the South-North Korea relationship and the fundamental resolution of Korean Peninsula issues,” a South Korean government official said in the report.

“The North Korean delegation too agreed that North Korea-US relations must develop along with the South-North Korea relationship while noting [the North] has enough intention to hold North Korea-US dialogue,” the official continued.

The US was also believed to be open to preliminary talks with North Korea. After months of maintaining a hardline stance against discussions with the regime, two senior administration officials said the White House was open to the idea, the New York Times reported earlier this month.

“The United States, too, looks positively at South-North Korean dialogue and has expressed its willingness to start dialogue with the North,” Moon’s spokesperson said in The Times.

Kim’s comment comes amid a new round of US sanctions against North Korea and sharp words from President Donald Trump, who suggested if the sanctions were ineffective, the US would be forced to enter a “very rough” phase with the regime.

Kim yong chol
North Korea’s Kim Yong-chol, right, shakes hands with South Korean Col. Kil Jang-sub, left, as a North Korean delegation crosses the border into South Korea for a meeting at the border village of Panmunjom, May 18, 2006 in South Korea. Lee Dong-Hun-Pool/Getty Images

“If the sanctions don’t work, we’ll have to go Phase Two,” Trump said during a press conference on Friday. “Phase Two may be a very rough thing. Maybe very, very unfortunate for the world.”

In response to news of North Korea’s possible plans for talks, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said on Sunday that the US still considers North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs “a dead end.”

“As President Trump has said, there is a brighter path available for North Korea if it chooses denuclearization,” she said in a statement. “We will see if Pyongyang’s message today, that it is willing to hold talks, represents the first steps along the path to denuclearization.”

Kim arrived in South Korea on Sunday as part of the North’s delegation in the closing ceremonies of the Winter Olympics.

Chol’s trip was approved by South Korea as a way to “improve inter-Korean ties and pave way for dialogue for peace,” a spokesman from South Korea’s Unification Ministry said in a previous Yonhap News report.

Kim’s presence was met with protests from many South Koreans, including lawmakers, who have blamed Kim’s widely believed role in orchestrating a series of attacks, namely the sinking of the South Korea’s Cheonan – a South Korean naval ship that was hit with a torpedo in 2010, killing 46 South Korean sailors.

Though North Korea recently made a series of diplomatic moves that, at least on the surface, indicate a willingness to improve its standing with South Korea, it is the first time in many years that it showed a willingness to negotiate with the US.

But despite a nod to North Korean-US talks, the regime still appeared to launch its usual barrage of threats. On Saturday, North Korea’s state-run media said that its nuclear weapons were only aimed at the US and were meant to establish peace on the Korean peninsula.