North Korea and the US remain deadlocked over the prospect of direct peace talks as it emerged on Tuesday that Pyongyang’s delegation in South Korea has repeated that it will not consider any American preconditions.
The Winter Olympics have sparked a fresh wave of diplomatic manoeuvres, bringing a warming of relations between North and South and offers of talks between the US and Kim Jong-un’s hardline regime.
However, on Monday President Donald Trump said talks were possible only under the "right conditions" after officials had said North Korea must commit to denuclearisation.
Hours later it emerged that Pyongyang had repeated its position in talks between the North Korean delegation that attended the closing ceremony of the games and senior South Korean government officials.
According to a spokesman for the presidency, the South’s representatives at Monday’s discussions included the head of the National Security Office, the vice minister of the Unification Ministry and Seoul’s point man on the nuclear issue.
Kim Yong-chol, the head of the North’s delegation, said Pyongyang has already shown willingness to hold talks with the US on numerous occasions. And he emphasised that no preconditions should be attached to the talks.
While that means Pyongyang will not request that South Korea and the US recognise the North as a nuclear power, it also suggests that Mr Kim’s regime will not accept demands that the question of its nuclear arsenal be open to debate.
Pyongyang continues to insist that its nuclear weapons are a deterrent that protect the nation’s sovereignty from the “hostile” US and cannot be included in any discussions.
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Analysts believe that Mr Kim sees his nuclear deterrent as essential to the country’s survival.
The White House has previously replied to the North’s offer by repeating that talks are possible if Pyongyang is willing to commit to eliminating its nuclear weapons.
The US is likely to take a firm line on denuclearisation because it appears to have the upper hand at present.
International sanctions are clearly taking their toll in North Korea – it is unlikely Pyongyang would have embarked on the present round of détente if it were in a stronger position – and the administration of President Donald Trump is likely to demand complete acquiescence.
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