Korean peninsula

Donald Trump open to talks with North Korea while keeping up ‘maximum pressure’ campaign

US president told South Korea’s Moon Jae-in that talks with Pyongyang could take place ‘at the appropriate time, under the right circumstances’

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 11 January, 2018, 4:40am
UPDATED : Thursday, 11 January, 2018, 8:07am

US President Donald Trump told his South Korean counterpart Moon Jae-in in a phone call that the US would be open to talks with North Korea while continuing to maintain a “maximum pressure” campaign against Pyongyang aimed at halting its nuclear and missile programmes.

During the call on Wednesday, Moon briefed Trump on the outcome of Tuesday’s meeting between North and South Korea, the first such inter-Korean dialogue in more than two years, and thanked Trump for his “influential leadership” in making the talks possible, the White House said in a press release issued after the exchange.

The White House said in the release that the two presidents had agreed to continue to put maximum pressure on the North Korean regime and its enablers and that Trump had expressed his openness to holding talks between Washington and Pyongyang “at the appropriate time, under the right circumstances”.

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Trump also told Moon that US Vice-President Mike Pence would lead the American delegation to the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics in South Korea next month, according to the release.

A spokesman for the US president’s National Security Council, speaking on condition of anonymity, told the South China Morning Post in an email that the forum for consideration of major American security concerns was “in close contact with our Republic of Korean allies about our unified response to North Korea, including the need to maintain maximum pressure to achieve a denuclearised Korean Peninsula”.

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When asked by reporters on Wednesday about the possibility of US talks with North Korea, Trump, who was meeting with cabinet members at the White House, did not speculate on whether talks would produce dividends. “Who knows where it leads?” the president was quoted by Reuters.

Trump also told reporters that Moon told him that Tuesday’s North and South Korean talks went well.

“Hopefully it will lead to success for the world, not just for our country, but for the world,” Trump was quoted in US media reports. “And we’ll be seeing over the next number of weeks and months what happens.”

The US has maintained a soft tone in its comments on the inter-Korean dialogue. The State Department said on Tuesday that the US welcomed talks between Pyongyang and Seoul on North Korea’s participation in the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics.

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White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said at a press briefing that North Korea’s participation in the Games does not “affect” the US, calling its plan to take part “an opportunity for the regime to see the value of ending its international isolation by denuclearising”.

The Trump administration has made few comments on the inter-Korean military talks that were discussed during Tuesday’s dialogue. The US and South Korea have a long-standing mutual defence alliance.

Pyongyang has accepted Seoul’s proposal to hold bilateral military talks to reduce tensions, according to a joint statement that was released after their meeting.

The top item on a “military talks” agenda is likely to be a request that North Korea hold off on future missile tests, said Catherine Dill, senior research associate at Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, California.

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Dill said the US appears “a bit isolated” after North and South Korea agreed to resolve all inter-Korean conflicts through dialogue, even without the US.

Trump’s expressing an openness to talk with North Korea, Dill said, reflects a larger “lack of coordination in … the US-South Korea alliance”, although it might lead to a slight temporary reduction in tensions.