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(News Focus) N.K. willing to talk with U.S. but doubts remain over denuclearization: experts

2018/03/06 23:31

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SEOUL, March 6 (Yonhap) -- North Korea appears to be willing, if not desperate, to resume its long stalled dialogue with the United States as demonstrated by a series of exceptional steps it has agreed to take to make that happen, but how sincere and willing it is to denuclearize still remains questionable, North Korea experts here said Tuesday.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has told a visiting group of South Korean officials that the communist state was willing to hold talks with the U.S. to discuss the normalization of ties, according to Chung Eui-yong, South Korean President Moon Jae-in's top security adviser who returned home earlier Tuesday from a two-day trip to North Korea.

To this end, Kim said his country was also willing to put the denuclearization issue on the dialogue table.

Chung said the North has agreed to suspend all its military provocations, including nuclear tests and ballistic missile launches, as long as the U.S.-North Korea dialogue were in progress.

"It is exceptional. It far exceeded any expectation," said Kim Yong-hyun, a North Korea studies professor from Seoul's Dongguk University.

"The point is North Korea-U.S. dialogue, North-U.S. contact. Everything is aimed at that. It shows the North's move to turn current conditions around through North-U.S. talks. It could not have immediately accepted the U.S. demand to denuclearize, but it still needed to change the current phase of confrontation between the North and the U.S. to a dialogue phase," he added.

The North Korea trip by Chung, chief of the presidential National Security Office, and four other special envoys of President Moon was largely aimed at persuading the North to talk with the U.S.

Washington earlier expressed its willingness to talk but said any dialogue would be held only under the right conditions.

The experts in South Korea noted the North's agreement to freeze its nuclear and missile activities may just have created such conditions.

"As the North expressed its position that it may hold candid dialogue with the U.S. for consultations on the denuclearization issue and normalization of the North Korea-U.S. relationship, serious talks between the North and the U.S. may be launched in the future," Cheong Seong-chang, a senior researcher at the Sejong Institute.

The North Korea expert called the North's promise to refrain from any military provocation while in dialogue with the U.S. the biggest achievement of the South Korean envoys.

The experts, however, cast doubt over whether the communist state is truly willing to denuclearize.

Moon's chief envoy, Chung, earlier quoted the North Korean leader as saying the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula was a dying wish of Kim's late father, Kim Jong-il.

"North Korea said it would have no reason to possess nuclear weapons should military threats (against it) be removed and the safety of its regime guaranteed, but what constitutes military threats against North Korea is where the South and North Korea might differ in the future," Cheong said.

Kim, the Dongguk University professor, remained more skeptical.

"Rather than being willing to denuclearize, the North appears to be willing to hold dialogue with the U.S. by suspending its nuclear activities for now," he said.

Others insisted the extent of "exceptional" and unprecedented steps the North has agreed to take must reflect at least some willingness to change.

They especially noted the reclusive North Korean leader's agreement to hold a summit with Moon at a South Korean facility located south of the inter-Korean border.

"It is a very exceptional agreement. It defies all formalities of past inter-Korean summits," said Yang Moo-jin, a professor from the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul. "The agreement has created the foundation for frequent shuttle diplomacy between the leaders."

   The inter-Korean summit, the third of its kind if held, will make Kim Jong-un the first North Korean leader to step on South Korean soil since the end of the 1950-53 Korean War. The two previous summits were held in 2000 and 2007, both in Pyongyang.

The two Koreas technically remain at war, as the Korean War ended with an armistice not a peace treaty.

bdk@yna.co.kr

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