U.S. and North Korea to Hold Nuclear Talks This Week, KCNA Says

(Bloomberg) — The U.S. and North Korea agreed to hold working-level talks on Saturday, the Korean Central News Agency reported, a move that could break a deadlock in discussions aimed at ending Pyongyang’s nuclear ambitions.

State-media KCNA quoted Vice Foreign Minister Choe Sun Hui as saying North Korea’s representatives are “ready to attend” talks and look forward to an improvement in U.S.-North Korea ties. The two sides agreed to have a “preliminary contact” the day before the talks, Choe is quoted as saying, without mentioning where the meeting would take place.

“It is my expectation that the working-level negotiations would accelerate the positive development of the DPRK-U.S. relations,” Choe said, referring to North Korea by its formal name.

North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un and U.S. President Donald Trump agreed at a June 30 meeting in the demilitarized zone that divides the Korean Peninsula to hold working-level talks in a matter of weeks. But the two sides have not met since then to discuss details of a disarmament deal.

Little progress has been made toward an agreement on North Korea’s nuclear program despite three meetings between the two leaders. Meanwhile, weapons experts said North Korea has been adding fissile material to its nuclear arsenal and improving its ability to launch ballistic missiles that could deliver nuclear warheads to the U.S. as well as its allies Japan and South Korea.

Concessions

South Korea’s presidential office issued a statement welcoming the resumption of talks, which have been pushed by President Moon Jae-in. “We hope through these working-level talks, there is actual progress for a complete denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula and the securing of permanent peace as soon as possible,” Moon’s office said.

Kim, who has suspended testing of nuclear weapons and intercontinental ballistic missiles while engaged in talks with the U.S., has given Trump until the end of the year to ease up on sanctions choking his state’s anemic economy. Kim has threatened to take a “new path” if the U.S. doesn’t change course.

Choe issued a statement last month saying North Korea would be willing to hold talks “at the time and place” to be agreed in late September. The North Korean statement cited recent comments by U.S. officials expressing a desire for negotiations and made no mention of any new concessions.

Former National Security Advisor John Bolton said Monday in Washington the U.S. can’t “simply pretend” North Korea is making progress toward denuclearizing and said Kim will never give up his nuclear stockpile without more pressure.

Bolton Rejects Trump’s Claims of Success on North Korea Nukes

North has fired off at least 15 missiles in 10 different military tests since May, extending the regime’s most prolific run of launches since Trump took office.

Almost all of the missiles fired during the period were believed to be North Korea’s new short-range ballistic missile known as the KN-23. It can carry a nuclear warhead, is designed to evade interception and can strike all of South Korea, as well as thousands of American troops there, weapons experts said.

”The biggest difference between the two is that North Korea wants the U.S. to abandon its stance of North Korea showing significant progress in denuclearizing before relieving any sanctions, said Kim Hyun-wook, a professor at Korea National Diplomatic Academy. “The U.S. wants at least a road map or a definition of what North Korea means by saying that it’ll denuclearize.”

(Updates with additional details, comments)

To contact the reporter on this story: Jihye Lee in Seoul at jlee2352@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Peter Pae at ppae1@bloomberg.net, Jon Herskovitz

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