Kim ready to talk 'over halting nuclear tests'
North Korea has vowed to halt nuclear and missile tests if it holds talks with the US, in a major diplomatic breakthrough that could lead to a peaceful resolution of military tensions, officials revealed yesterday.
The pledge was made during an unprecedented meeting between top South Korean security officials and Kim Jong-un, the reclusive North Korean leader, in Pyongyang, the North Korean capital, on Monday evening.
US President Donald Trump welcomed the developments yesterday, praising the "possible progress" from the talks and saying that all sides were putting in "serious effort".
However, other US administration figures were more wary.
Mike Pence, the vice president, said "credible, verifiable and concrete steps toward denuclearisation" would be needed before America changed its stance of applying "maximum pressure" on the regime.
Dan Coats, the US director of national intelligence, said he was "quite sceptical" about the announcement, adding: "Maybe this is a breakthrough. I seriously doubt it. As I said, hope springs eternal."
In another significant development, North and South Korea agreed to hold their first joint summit in more than a decade in late April, according to Chung Eui-yong, who led the South's two-day delegation to the North.
The summit between Moon Jae-in, the South Korean president, and Mr Kim will be held in the border village of Panmunjom, within the highly militarised zone between the two countries who are still technically at war.
Mr Chung said yesterday that North Korea had expressed its willingness to talk to America "in an open-ended dialogue to discuss the issue of denuclearisation and to normalise relations".
Pyongyang indicated that it would not need to keep its nuclear weapons if military threats against the country were resolved and it received a credible security guarantee, said the South Korean envoy.
The North Koreans, who dined with their South Korean counterparts for four hours, also vowed never to use nuclear and conventional weapons against the South, Mr Chung added.
The promise to freeze its nuclear programme, in an apparent reversal of earlier statements that the US demand to denuclearise was "ridiculous", opens the door for talks with the Trump administration, which has previously stated it will negotiate "under the right conditions".
Mr Trump tweeted yesterday: "Possible progress being made in talks with North Korea. For the first time in many years, a serious effort is being made by all parties concerned.
"The world is watching and waiting! May be false hope, but the US is ready to go hard in either direction!"
Hours later Mr Pence released a statement that adopted a cooler tone, promising: "Whichever direction talks with North Korea go, we will be firm in our resolve.
"The United States and our allies remain committed to applying maximum pressure on the Kim regime to end their nuclear programme.
"All options are on the table and our posture toward the regime will not change until we see credible, verifiable, and concrete steps toward denuclearisation."
Meanwhile, Mr Chung said the South and North had agreed to set up a "hotline" between their leaders to allow "close consultations and a reduction of military tension".
The April summit will be only the third in recent memory.
The past two, in 2000 and 2007, led to a series of co-operative projects between the two Koreas but not, ultimately, peace.
Mr Coats warned yesterday that China was spending "an extraordinary amount of money" to increase its international standing, worrying its neighbours and threatening US influence.
"A report was recently released, an unclassified version, that China will spend about $8bn (€6.5bn) in 68 different nations establishing its geostrategic positioning, not only for economic purposes and trade purposes, but also for use of military facilities," Mr Coats told a senate hearing on worldwide threats.
On Monday, China unveiled its largest defence spending increase in three years, setting an 8.1pc growth target this year, fuelling an ambitious military modernisation programme.
© Daily Telegraph, London