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(4th LD) Chief N. Korean delegate says Pyongyang willing to hold talks with U.S.

2018/02/25 21:27

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(ATTN: UPDATES with more information, minor changes throughout; RESTRUCTURES)

By Byun Duk-kun

SEOUL, Feb. 25 (Yonhap) -- North Korea has "enough" willingness to hold talks with the United States, a ranking North Korean official told South Korean President Moon Jae-in Sunday, according to Moon's presidential office Cheong Wa Dae.

The remarks from Kim Yong-chol, a senior official of the North's ruling Worker's Party in charge of inter-Korean relations, came in a meeting with Moon in PyeongChang, the host city of the 2018 Winter Olympic Games.

"President Moon pointed out that U.S.-North Korea dialogue must be held at an early date even for an improvement in the South-North Korea relationship and the fundamental resolution of Korean Peninsula issues," Cheong Wa Dae spokesman Kim Eui-kyeom said of the meeting.

A Cheong Wa Dae official later explained that those Korean Peninsula issues included North Korea's nuclear development program, also adding that the president specifically pointed out the need to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula, in the meeting.

"The North Korean delegation too agreed that North Korea-U.S. relations must develop along with the South-North Korea relationship while noting (the North) has enough intention to hold North Korea-U.S. dialogue," the Cheong Wa Dae spokesman said.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in (second from R) shakes hands with Kim Yong-chol, chief of a North Korean delegation to the PyeongChang Winter Olympic Games, at the start of the closing ceremony for the Olympic Games in PyeongChang, 180 kilometers east of Seoul, on Feb. 25, 2018. (Yonhap) South Korean President Moon Jae-in (second from R) shakes hands with Kim Yong-chol, chief of a North Korean delegation to the PyeongChang Winter Olympic Games, at the start of the closing ceremony for the Olympic Games in PyeongChang, 180 kilometers east of Seoul, on Feb. 25, 2018. (Yonhap)

The meeting was held for about an hour, from 5 p.m. The North Korean official arrived in South Korea earlier in the day for the closing ceremony of the PyeongChang Olympic Games.

Moon welcomed the recent rapprochement between the two Koreas and stressed the need to further improve bilateral ties, according to the Cheong Wa Dae spokesman.

"The North Korean delegation relayed North Korean leader Kim Jong-un's willingness (to do so), saying he (Kim Jong-un) too held the same commitment," the spokesman said in a released statement.

Seoul and Pyongyang resumed bilateral talks last month, after a two-year hiatus, to discuss the North's participation in the Winter Olympic Games held here from Feb. 9.

It marked Moon's second meeting with ranking North Korean officials in just about two weeks as he also met with an earlier delegation led by the communist state's ceremonial head of state, Kim Yong-nam.

The delegation to the opening of the PyeongChang Olympics Games included the North Korean leader's younger sister, Yo-jong, who carried an invitation from her brother for Moon to visit Pyongyang in the near future for what would be a third inter-Korean summit.

Moon has repeatedly stressed the need to maintain and further develop the dialogue between the two Koreas so they may lead to a resumption of talks between the United States and North Korea, as well as multilateral negotiations to rid the communist state of its nuclear weapons.

The U.S., however, is seen skeptical of the North's recent approach toward the South.

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence earlier said he was originally scheduled to meet with North Korea's ceremonial head of state and leader Kim Jong-un's sister during his recent trip to South Korea but that the North Koreans pulled out of the meeting at the last minute.

Ivanka Trump, U.S. President Donald Trump's daughter and a White House advisor, is currently leading a U.S. delegation to the closing of the PyeongChang Olympics, but she has said she had no plans to meet North Koreans during her four-day trip here that began Friday.

She apparently remained true to her words, at least during the start of the closing ceremony of the PyeongChang Olympics, keeping her eyes well away from the chief of the North Korean delegation, who sat only two seats away in a row directly behind her in a small VIP box.

Earlier in the day, an identified spokesman for the North's Korea Asia-Pacific Peace Committee blasted Pence for calling Kim Yong-jong a "central pillar" of a vicious regime, saying the North will not hold a face-to-face meeting with the U.S. president or Pence for 100 or even 200 years.

Ivanka is set to head home early Monday. The North Koreans will return Tuesday.

bdk@yna.co.kr

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