Asia Pacific

Senior North Korean diplomat says country is open to dialogue with U.S. under right ‘conditions’

Reuters, Kyodo

A senior North Korean diplomat who handles relations with the United States said Saturday that Pyongyang would have dialogue with the U.S. administration if conditions were right.

“If conditions are met, we will hold dialogue (with Washington),” Choe Son Hui, head of its Foreign Ministry’s North America bureau, told reporters in Beijing before heading back to Pyongyang, following recent informal discussions with U.S. experts in Norway.

On North Korea’s possible stance toward South Korea’s new government of President Moon Jae-in, who upon taking office Wednesday said he is open to visiting North Korea under the right conditions, Choe said, “We have to wait and see.”

A North Korea delegation led by Choe met with a group of U.S. experts on security affairs Monday and Tuesday in Oslo.

The experts included Thomas Pickering, former U.S. undersecretary of state for political affairs and ambassador to the United Nations, and Suzanne DiMaggio, a director and senior fellow of the U.S. think tank New America.

Ahead of her departure to Pyongyang from Beijing Capital International Airport, Choe also disclosed they did not address the fate of four U.S. citizens detained in North Korea during the two-day meeting.

U.S. President Donald Trump warned in an interview with Reuters in late April that a “major, major conflict” with the North was possible, but he would prefer a diplomatic outcome to the dispute over its nuclear and missile programs.

Trump later said he would be “honoured” to meet the North’s leader, Kim Jong Un, under the right conditions.

Trump’s administration said late last month that its basic approach toward the North is to pressure it into dismantling its nuclear program by “tightening economic sanctions and pursuing diplomatic measures with our allies and regional partners.”

U.S. officials have said the meeting between Choe and the experts had nothing to do with Washington.

But it is almost certain that for Choe, who has long been involved in nuclear negotiations, the latest trip was to learn more about Trump’s administration and its possible next steps toward North Korea, which has never had diplomatic ties with Washington.

Diplomatic sources told Kyodo News this month that the administration had already informed China of Trump’s readiness to welcome North Korea’s leader for a meeting in the United States, if Pyongyang abandons its nuclear and missile programs.

The idea was part of a set of proposals the United States put out during recent discussions with Chinese officials on how best to deal with North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs.

U.S. officials have said all options, including a military strike, are on the table in trying to curb North Korea’s nuclear ambitions. But they have said at the same time that the door for dialogue is open.

The mixed signals from Washington have became move obvious after Kim’s regime did not conduct another nuclear test on either of two important North Korean anniversaries in April, as had been widely expected.

The U.S. administration had also already told China, North Korea’s most important political and economic backer, it would not resort to military action and would give a security guarantee for Kim’s regime if the arms programs were scrapped, according to the sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

While indicating its willingness to reach out to the United States, North Korea has not changed its stance on advancing nuclear arms development.

North Korea has defended the programs as self-defensive in nature and they are essential in the face of powerful U.S. military power.