Wednesday 21 March 2018

US and South Korea differ on setting up talks with North

North Korea leader Kim Jong-un is trying to buy time, says US. Photo: AP
North Korea leader Kim Jong-un is trying to buy time, says US. Photo: AP

Julian Ryall

Clear differences of opinion are emerging between South Korea and the US over how to deal with North Korea, with the US accusing Pyongyang of attempting to "buy time" to further advance its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programmes.

Washington's firm position has been underlined by Marc Knapper, the acting US ambassador in Seoul, who this week said Pyongyang should demonstrate its willingness to talk by dropping its insistence that its nuclear weapons are not open to negotiation.

"We have seen enough times the North used dialogue with us and South Korea and others to continue to buy time to pursue nuclear and missile developments," Mr Knapper said.

That position was reiterated by Heather Nauert, a spokeswoman for the State Department in Washington, who said: "Our policy is denuclearisation. Our policy has not changed.

"We have talked about this policy since day one of this administration. And that's maximum pressure, but it's also the denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula."

The US is also pushing hard for a date to be set for joint US-South Korean military exercises that clashed with the recent Winter Olympic Games and were postponed at North Korea's request. Pyongyang insists the manoeuvres are a rehearsal for an invasion and is demanding that they be scrapped entirely.

Washington's hard-line approach is in contrast to the efforts by South Korea to bring the two sides together.

Moon Chung-in, special adviser on national security to President Moon Jae-in, said this week he hopes the US and North Korea can "reach some sort of compromise" on the exercises in the coming weeks.

In an interview with Yonhap News Agency in Geneva, Kang Kyung-wha, the South's foreign minister, said she plans to meet "soon" with Rex Tillerson, the US secretary of state, to make progress on proposals for talks. She sounded optimistic on the likelihood of a meeting taking place, saying: "I cannot predict the timing for sure, but we are pursuing the goal of helping generate the talks between the US and North Korea."

Washington, however, believes that international sanctions are having an effect on the North Korean regime and President Donald Trump is unlikely to make concessions given the strength of his hand.

Irish Independent

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