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U.S. must send clear signals to reopen talks with N.K.: expert

2018/01/12 03:04

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WASHINGTON, Jan. 11 (Yonhap) -- The United States could hold talks with North Korea if it demonstrates its sincerity, such as by suspending joint military exercises with South Korea, a U.S. expert said Thursday.

Joel Wit, senior fellow at the U.S.-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins SAIS, was commenting on the possibility of U.S.-North Korea dialogue in the wake of the high-level South-North talks that took place earlier this week.

"I would say the odds are against it, given everything that's happened over the past year," he said during a press call. "But it's possible if the U.S. government understands that this is an opportunity to try to develop some sort of face-to-face contact, and in that context, to try to find a path towards resuming negotiations."

   U.S. President Donald Trump told South Korean President Moon Jae-in Wednesday that he is open to holding talks with the North "at the appropriate time, under the right circumstances." Trump also said last week that he would be willing to speak directly with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un when the conditions are right.

Wit said the Trump administration must do more than just talk.

"They may think having President Trump say a few words -- that, in and of itself, may lead to a dialogue. I think that's a big mistake," he said. "Signals have to be reinforced. They have to just continue over the next month or two."

   One way to induce Pyongyang would be to address its concerns about South Korea-U.S. military drills, which it views as rehearsals for an invasion, according to the expert who has been involved in informal meetings with North Koreans.

The allies have agreed to postpone their scheduled exercises during the period of the PyeongChang Winter Olympics in the South next month, a move that may have led to North Korea's agreement to participate in the Games.

But Wit said that won't be enough.

"We're going to have to address the issue of what to do about those very soon," he said. "And of course, I would recommend that we delay it even further, that we think about altering our exercise program in a way where we can maintain the security that we need to maintain, while also not conducting exercises that the North Koreans find so threatening."

   Washington has so far rejected similar proposals, saying the exercises are a legal, defensive measure.

Trump should also stop hurling personal insults at Kim, Wit said, and the administration should ensure that sanctions do not affect United Nations and other humanitarian assistance to the impoverished regime.

Robert Carlin, a visiting scholar at the Center for International Security and Cooperation, said any move by the U.S. could hinge on future inter-Korean talks.

"Over time, if the North and the South Koreans make enough seriously positive progress, I think it will start opening mental doors in Washington and people will start exploring what's possible," he said.

hague@yna.co.kr

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