Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 23 May 2019

US and North Korea to hold talks this week after nuclear standoff

Two sides could be nearing compromise after months-long standoff over North's nuclear and missile programmes

President Donald Trump, right, meets North Korean leader Kim Jong-un on Sentosa Island in Singapore in 2018. AP
President Donald Trump, right, meets North Korean leader Kim Jong-un on Sentosa Island in Singapore in 2018. AP

The US and North Korea plan to hold high-level talks in Washington as soon as this week to discuss a second summit of their leaders, after a long stalemate in nuclear talks, South Korean media said on Tuesday.

The meeting, led by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and senior North Korean official Kim Yong-chol, would happen on Thursday or Friday, the Chosun Ilbo said.

Both sides are expected to finalise the time and place of a second summit between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, and the North's envoy is likely to meet Mr Trump, the paper said.

South Korean news agency Yonhap also quoted a diplomatic source as saying Mr Pompeo and Kim Yong-chol could meet this week.

The North Korean delegation could visit the US "as soon as this week" but plans have not been finalised, a CNN reporter, citing an unnamed source, said on Twitter.

Ahead of the possible meetings, a letter Mr Trump sent to Mr Kim was flown to Pyongyang and hand delivered over the weekend, the CNN reporter added, citing the source.

The US embassy in Seoul did not immediately comment on the reports. While the White House had offered no immediate comment on the earlier South Korean newspaper report, a State Department official responded, "We don't have any meetings to announce."

If confirmed, this week's meeting could mean the two sides are nearing a compromise after a months-long standoff over how to move forward in ending North Korea's nuclear and missile programmes.

Mr Pompeo, who made several trips to Pyongyang last year, sought to meet the North Korean minister last November, but the talks were called off at the last minute.

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Contact was resumed after Mr Kim's New Year's speech, in which he said he was willing to meet President Trump "at any time", South Korea's ambassador to the US, Cho Yoon-je, said last week.

Washington and Seoul have been discussing potential US measures to reciprocate North Korea's possible steps toward denuclearisation, such as dismantling the Yongbyon main nuclear complex or intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) aimed at the US, South Korean officials said.

The US is considering partially easing sanctions in exchange for the North's discarding and sending abroad its ICBMs, in addition to a freeze in its nuclear programme, the Chosun Ilbo said, citing the source.

Potential US corresponding action also includes exemptions from sanctions for inter-Korean business and tour ventures and opening a liaison office as a prelude to a formal launch of diplomatic relations, Seoul officials said.

"Those ideas are being discussed as interim measures, not as an end state, in order to expedite the denuclearisation process because the North wouldn't respond to any demand for a declaration of facilities and weapons," a senior South Korean official said, requesting anonymity due to the sensitivity of the matter.

"The end goal remains unchanged, whether it be complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearisation, or final, fully verified denuclearisation."

The official said a second summit between Mr Trump and Mr Kim might happen in late February or early March, though "No one knows what Trump is thinking."

Mr Kim reiterated his resolve to meet President Trump again during a meeting last week with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Trump also said this month he had received a "great" letter from Mr Kim and would probably meet him again in the not-too-distant future.

"At the second summit, they'll probably focus on reaching a possible interim deal, rather than a comprehensive roadmap for denuclearisation," said Cheong Seong-chang, a senior fellow at South Korea's Sejong Institute.

"Whether Pyongyang is willing to abolish ICBMs, in addition to disabling the Yongbyon complex, would be key, and if so, the North will likely demand sanctions relief in return."

Updated: January 15, 2019 03:25 PM

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