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Now is the 'best time' for N.K. to come out for talks with U.S.: Seoul official

2018/01/24 14:55

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SEOUL, Jan. 24 (Yonhap) -- Now is the "best time" for North Korea to hold dialogue with the United States on its nuclear and missile programs, a high-ranking South Korean diplomatic official said Wednesday, adding that the Seoul government does not oppose their bilateral talks.

"Now is the best time, as the U.S. opens its door for talks," the official told a group of reporters, on condition of anonymity. "The U.S. could close the door shut anytime. It is important for the North to stop provocations and come out for talks."

   Tensions have eased as the two Koreas recently agreed to the North's participation in the Feb. 9-25 PyeongChang Winter Olympics, which will be held in the South, after holding a series of talks, the first such meetings in more than two years.

South Korea is seeking to turn this peaceful mood into a chance to resume negotiations on the North's nuclear and missile ambitions, for which dialogue between Washington and Pyongyang is considered critical.

The official said that the U.S. is sending out signs that it is ready to talk with the North, which is in contrast with the past, when it frequently forced the North to accept what it saw as tough preconditions before starting talks.

"Though their rhetoric has been strong, (U.S. Secretary of State Rex) Tillerson signaled that talks could be possible if the North stops provocations for some time, and Trump has also joined in this," he said. "There has never been any time before that (U.S. officials) have said this."

   He said that South Korea does not object to the U.S. sitting down with the North first, but noted that the South's involvement later on should be guaranteed.

"It's hard to predict, but one thing is clear, that our participation should be guaranteed and be part (of the process), both in terms of content and methodology," he said. "We still do not oppose the U.S. and the North having talks first."

   His remarks are in line with the foreign ministry's earlier stance, made clear in its 2018 policy direction on the North, which was unveiled last week.

The ministry said that it will be hard to induce North Korea and the U.S. into a "dialogue process" based on the peaceful momentum created by the resumption of inter-Korean talks on Pyongyang's participation in the Winter Olympics.

With regard to the speculation that the North's participation in the Olympics could undermine the global sanction regime by providing support for visiting North Korean athletes and officials, he made clear that the government will make unwavering efforts not to cause any controversy related to sanctions.

"Even if there is an inevitable need for us to provide support, we will decide in a transparent manner through consultations with relevant countries and the International Olympic Committee and the sanctions committee (of the U.N. Security Council)," he said.