North Korea tells US it is ready to discuss N-free peninsula

Published April 9, 2018
Pyongyang: Runners take part in the Pyongyang International Marathon on Sunday.—AP
Pyongyang: Runners take part in the Pyongyang International Marathon on Sunday.—AP

WASHINGTON: North Korea has told the United States for the first time that it is prepared to discuss the denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula when North Korean leader Kim Jong Un meets President Donald Trump, a US official said on Sunday.

North Korean and US officials have held secret contacts recently in which Pyongyang directly confirmed its willingness to hold the unprecedented summit, the official said.

Until now, Washington had relied mostly on ally South Korea’s assurance of Kim’s intentions.

South Korean envoys visited Washington last month to convey Kim’s invitation to meet Trump. The US president, who has exchanged bellicose threats with Kim in the past year, surprised the world by quickly agreeing to meet Kim to discuss the crisis over Pyongyang’s development of nuclear weapons capable of hitting the United States.

But Pyongyang has not broken its public silence on the summit, which US officials say is being planned for next month. There was no immediate word on the possible venue for the talks, which would be the first ever between a sitting US president and a North Korean leader.

The US official declined to say exactly when and how the US-North Korea communications had taken place, but said the two sides had held multiple direct contacts.

“The US has confirmed that Kim Jong Un is willing to discuss the denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula,” said another US official.

Questions remain about how North Korea would define denuclearisation, which Washington sees as Pyongyang abandoning its nuclear weapons programme.

North Korea has said over the years that it could consider giving up its nuclear arsenal if the United States removed its troops from South Korea and withdrew its so-called nuclear umbrella of deterrence from South Korea and Japan.

Some analysts have said Trump’s willingness to meet Kim handed North Korea a diplomatic win, as the United States had insisted for years that any such summit be preceded by North Korean steps to denuclearise.

Foreigners run marathon

Hundreds of foreigners joined in the annual Pyongyang marathon on Sunday despite political tensions that have only recently begun to ease and a ban on US citizens travelling to the country that is still in effect.

Approximately 400 foreign amateurs took part this year, less than half the number that came last year. They came from approximately 43 countries and territories around the world.

Disabled people were allowed to join in for the first time. One wheelchair runner from Singapore and one blind North Korean runner were in Sunday’s race.

This year’s marathon started in Kim Il Sung Stadium and wound past Pyongyang landmarks such as Kim Il Sung Square and Mirae Street, one of the North Korean capital’s recent redevelopment projects.

Published in Dawn, April 9th, 2018

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