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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 25 June 2018

Pence raises prospect of US-North Korea talks, Seoul seeks to lower tensions

Vice president Mike Pence said the US and South Korea have agreed on terms for further diplomatic engagement with North Korea

US vice president Mike Pence and Second Lady Karen Pence arrive at Osan airbase in Pyeongtaek, South Korea, on February 8, 2018. Ryu Seung-il / Bloomberg
US vice president Mike Pence and Second Lady Karen Pence arrive at Osan airbase in Pyeongtaek, South Korea, on February 8, 2018. Ryu Seung-il / Bloomberg

The United States may be looking more favourably at diplomatic engagement with North Korea, possibly holding dialogue, as South Korea pushes forward with plans to establish grounds for a rare summit between the two Koreas.

Vice president Mike Pence said in a newspaper interview the US and South Korea have agreed on terms for further diplomatic engagement with North Korea, first with Seoul and then possibly leading to direct talks with Washington without pre-conditions.

The prospect of talks comes after months of tension between Pyongyang, Seoul and Washington over North Korea's pursuit of nuclear weapons, with US president Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un trading insults and threats amid tightening sanctions from the United Nations.

Relations between the two Koreas improved in recent weeks, with Pyongyang agreeing to send its highest ranking delegation ever to attend the Winter Olympic Games, being held in the South Korean resort of Pyeongchang.

Speaking to the Washington Post aboard Air Force Two on his way home from the Games, Mr Pence said Washington would keep up its "maximum pressure campaign" against Pyongyang but would be open to possible talks at the same time.

“The point is, no pressure comes off until they are actually doing something that the alliance believes represents a meaningful step toward denuclearisation,” Mr Pence was quoted on Sunday as saying. “So the maximum pressure campaign is going to continue and intensify. But if you want to talk, we’ll talk.”

Mr Pence had travelled to the Olympics to counter what Washington said was the North's crude attempts to hijack the Games with a propaganda campaign.

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South Korea said it will seek ways to continue engaging North Korea including trying to arrange more reunions for families divided by the Korean War and aim to lower military tensions.

The statement from the Ministry of Unification came after the North Korean delegation concluded its three-day visit which included an invitation for South Korean president Moon Jae-in to travel to Pyongyang for talks.

The visit "shows that North Korea has a strong will to improve inter-Korean relations and that Pyongyang can make unprecedented and bold measures if deemed necessary," the ministry said.

The visit of the delegation, which included North Korean leader Kim Jong-un's younger sister Kim Yo Jong, intrigued many in South Korea, but also met scepticism about the North's sincerity and willingness to give up its pursuit of nuclear weapons.

"Although many Koreans are welcoming North Korea’s participation in the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are also significant criticism and concerns both domestically and internationally," the statement said.