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(LEAD) Pyongyang will talk with Washington under right conditions: N.K. diplomat

2017/05/13 14:01

(ATTN: RECASTS lead; UPDATES with more details; ADDS image)

BEIJING, May 13 (Yonhap) -- A senior North Korean diplomat in charge of U.S. affairs said Saturday Pyongyang will hold talks with Washington "under the right conditions," raising the possibility bilateral contact amid U.S. President Donald Trump having expressed his willingness to meet with the North's leader.

Choe Son-hui, director-general of the North America bureau chief of North Korea's foreign ministry, told reporters at the Beijing Capital International Airport that her country "will hold dialogue under right conditions" with the U.S. administration.

This composite image shows Choe Son-hui, director-general and North America bureau chief of North Korea's foreign ministry. (Yonhap) This composite image shows Choe Son-hui, director-general and North America bureau chief of North Korea's foreign ministry. (Yonhap)

Choe led a North Korean delegation that met with a group of American experts, headed by Suzanne DiMaggio -- director of the U.S. think tank New America -- in Oslo, Norway, earlier this week, according to South Korean diplomatic sources.

DiMaggio is known as an Iran specialist well-versed in the Obama administration's nuclear talks with the Middle Eastern nation. Thomas Pickering, former U.S. envoy to the U.N., and Robert Einhorn, U.S. State Department's former special adviser for nonproliferation and arms control, were also among the American experts' group.

The diplomat was in Beijing and was returning to Pyongyang. When asked what she discussed with Pickering, Choe answered, "I met with Pickering and I will discuss it when given the opportunity in the future."

   This week's meeting took place amid a let-up in military tensions on the Korean Peninsula. The North did not conduct a nuclear test or a long-range rocket launch in April despite a view that it may take such a provocative act to mark a series of key political events in the month.

It was also held as South Koreans picked Moon Jae-in of the liberal Democratic Party as their new president. Expectations are running high over a change of mood in inter-Korean ties that have long been frosty.

When asked whether Pyongyang is preparing to hold dialogue with Seoul's Moon administration, Che replied, "We will observe the situation."

   The U.S. government has stated that it will not attach any special meaning to the so-called "track two" dialogue in Oslo.

"Track-two meetings are routinely held on a variety of topics around the world and occur independent of U.S. government involvement," a State Department official said.

But North Korea watchers took note of the timing of the meeting this time, saying it may provide the two sides with a chance for a type of "exploratory" talks.

U.S. President Donald Trump often talks tough about North Korea, emphasizing the need to put more pressure on the Kim Jong-un regime.

He recently said, however, he would meet Kim "under the right circumstances."

   "If it would be appropriate for me to meet with him, I would absolutely, I would be honored to do it," Trump said in an interview with Bloomberg News earlier this month.

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