North Korea says it is willing to freeze nuclear tests if US agrees to talks

North Korean leader tells envoy from South he wants to ‘vigorously advance’ relations in first meeting since he came to power in 2011

North Korea is willing to discuss relinquishing its nuclear weapons, and will freeze its nuclear and missile programmes if it begins direct talks with the US, in a dramatic easing of tensions following a visit by senior South Korean politicians.

The country’s leader, Kim Jong-un, will also meet his South Korean counterpart, president Moon Jae-in, in late April in the first summit of its kind in over a decade, Seoul’s presidential office said. The two leaders will meet at Panmunjom, the only part of the highly militarized border where the North and South have any kind of contact.

North Korea pledged to not use conventional or nuclear weapons against its neighbour, despite frequent threats from Pyongyang. The two sides have remained in a technical state of war since the end of the 1950-53 Korean war.

“The North side clearly affirmed its commitment to the denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula and said it would have no reason to possess nuclear weapons should the safety of its regime be guaranteed and military threats against North Korea removed,” a South Korean presidential spokesman said, according to the Yonhap news agency.

“The South and the North have agreed to set up a hotline between their leaders to allow close consultations and a reduction of military tension, while also agreeing to hold the first phone conversation before the third South-North summit.”

The dramatic announcement came as a South Korean delegation returned from a two-day trip to Pyongyang where they met with Kim and other senior North Korean officials. The meeting between the two leaders would be the first since Kim came to power in 2011 after the death of his father. A previous summit was held with his father in 2007.

Kim said he wants to “vigorously advance” relations with South Korea during the visit led by Chung Eui-yong, the head of the South’s national security office.

Photos of the meeting showed Kim with a wide smile as he met the delegation, where he said he wanted to “write a new history of national reunification”.

Kim rarely meets foreign visitors, making his appearance highly significant, and his decision to personally host a dinner for the South Koreans was even more striking.

“He ... made an exchange of in-depth views on the issues for easing the acute military tensions on the Korean Peninsula and activating the versatile dialogue, contact, cooperation and exchange,” the North’s official Korean Central News Agency reported, referring to Kim.

“He repeatedly clarified that it is our consistent and principled stand and his firm will to vigorously advance the north-south relations and write a new history of national reunification by the concerted efforts of our nation to be proud of in the world.”

 

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