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Washington Willing To Engage In Talks With North Korea, South Says

Senior American officials told South Korea’s president they were willing to engage in direct talks with North Korea, a spokesman for President Moon Jae-in said on Tuesday. The sudden change of tone when it comes to direct negotiations with the rogue Korean state might be an indication of a larger shift in the Trump administration’s policy, The New York Times reported.

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The statement from South Korean President Moon Jae-in comes just days after U.S. Vice President Mike Pence visited Pyeongchang, South Korea, where he attended the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympic games. During his South Korean visit, Vice President Pence met with President Moon and discussed the pressing issues the two countries faced.

Since Mr. Pence’s departure from Pyeongchang on Saturday, reports of an agreement between Washington and Seoul on the future of the country’s relations and talks with North Korea have started appearing in the media. However, South Korean officials remained silent on the issue throughout the weekend, and have confirmed the news during a press conference on Tuesday.

“The United States too looks positively at South-North Korean dialogue and has expressed its willingness to start dialogue with the North,” Mr. Moon’s spokesman, Kim Eui-kyeom, told reporters, according to The New York Times.

The official statement coming from President Moon’s cabinet reflects the attitude coming from Washington. During a meeting between President Moon and Vice President Pence last Friday, the two allies are said to have found common ground when it comes to the rogue state. According to The Washington Post, the two agreed on resuming talks with North Korea without any set rules, as well as continuing to use the sanctions imposed on the country as leverage.

During a press conference after meeting with the South Korean leader on Friday, Vice President Pence told reporters that the two sides talked about “the need to do something fundamentally different.” The allies, he said, would demand at the outset of any new talks with North Korea that the country “put denuclearization on the table and take concrete steps with the world community to dismantle, permanently and irreversibly, their nuclear and ballistic missile programs.”

Continuing his statement, Mr. Pence said “Then, and only then, will the world community consider negotiating and making changes in the sanctions regime that’s placed on them today.”

Mr. Pence’s Friday statement comes just days after he announced what he claimed will be the Trump administration’s most grueling round of economic sanctions against North Korea. While standing alongside Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Pence said that that the United States will continue to isolate North Korea through “the toughest and most aggressive” round of economic sanctions.

Vice President Pence’s recent statement about the willingness of the U.S. to engage in a set of talks with North Korea comes as a sharp contrast to the previous attitude Washington held towards the idea.

U.S. President Donald Trump recently described Mr. Moon’s overtures and talks with North Korea as “appeasement.” Back in December, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told reporters that the United States was willing to hold a “meeting without precondition.” But, Mr. Tillerson’s comments about the possibility of talks with North Korea were soon shut down by the White House, with an official spokesperson insisting that his comments were premature.

However, despite the harsh attitude Washington had towards the possibility of talks with North Korea, Vice President Pence suggested that the tides have turned and that the U.S. was willing to take on a different approach.

In an interview with the Washington Post after he left Pyeonchang, South Korea, Mr. Pence said that the U.S. would enter talks without preconditions.

“So the maximum pressure campaign is going to continue and intensify,” Mr. Pence said of the punishing sanctions imposed on the North by the United Nations. “But if you want to talk, we’ll talk.”

With the U.S. agreeing to talks with North Korea before the rogue state’s regime have demonstrated their willingness to consider denuclearization would be a clear win for Mr. Moon. The South Korean leader has been very vocal about hoping to bring North Korea and the United States to the negotiating table, and the shift in Washington’s approach might just be what makes it possible.

Mr. Moon has seen the Winter Olympics and talks with North Korea as an important step towards promoting peace on the Korean Peninsula, inviting athletes from North to participate in the games. During the opening ceremony, South and North Korean athletes marched together under a united Korean flag.

However, with the New York Times saying that a number of analysts have speculated that the regime would never give up nuclear weapons, any future talks with North Korea would still leave a large gap between the countries.