In a significant shift on its hard stance on talks with the North Korean regime, the United States said it is open for talks without preconditions. US Vice President Mike Pence declared the shift in White House policy after Olympics-inspired gestures of respect between the rival Koreas.
However, the US has put the onus of diplomatic outreach between Washington and Pyongyang on Kim Jong Un.
While the North Korean dictator, who has yet to meet a foreign leader, has invited the South Korean president for a rare summit, Kim has given no sign of being ready to talk to the US.
A back channel of diplomatic communication between North Korea and the State Department has remained open since President Donald Trump took office a year ago, but the only substantive talks reported to date were in the first half of last year over the fate of several Americans in North Korean custody.
Also, the North has refused to negotiate over its nuclear weapons as it nears its goal of being able to launch an atomic-tipped missile that could strike the US mainland.
Trump views those weapons as America’s primary national security threat. His administration’s 2019 budget, released Monday, includes hundreds of millions dollars more for missile defence, adding 20 strategic interceptors in Alaska to protect against long-range, North Korean projectiles.
Meanwhile, Pence is making clear that the US will keep escalating sanctions pressure on the North until it takes clear steps toward giving up its nukes. But at the same time, Pence signalled more openness to engagement with Pyongyang.
“The point is, no pressure comes off until they are actually doing something that the alliance believes represents a meaningful step toward denuclearization,” Pence told US media.
“So the maximum pressure campaign is going to continue and intensify. But if you want to talk, we’ll talk.”
Last week saw an unprecedented shift in ties between two Korean neighbours after the Northern contingent, led by Kim Jong-Un’s sister Kim Yo, participated in the winter Olympic games held in South Korea.
(With inputs from the Agencies)