US urged to 'lower bar' on nuclear demands for North talks
Moon Jae-in, the South Korean president, has called on the US to "lower the bar" for discussions with North Korea, suggesting Washington should drop its insistence that Pyongyang's nuclear arsenal must be part of any future talks.
The intervention comes as North Korea is rumoured to be warming to direct talks with the US.
However, Pyongyang has consistently stated that its atomic weapons are its security guarantee and, therefore, not open to debate.
Calling on the US to soften its stance, Mr Moon also said Pyongyang must demonstrate willingness to abolish its nuclear weapons.
Looking to build on the positive momentum generated by the South's hosting of the Winter Olympic Games, which closed on Sunday, Mr Moon used a meeting with Liu Yandong, the Chinese vice premier, to suggest that the key protagonists should both make concessions.
"The United States needs to lower its bar for dialogue and the North, too, must show its willingness to denuclearise," Mr Moon said, according to a government spokesman.
Mr Moon's comments come one day after he met with members of the North Korean contingent at the closing ceremony of the Olympics. Kim Yong-chol, who headed the North's delegation and is seen as a close confidante of Kim Jong-un, reportedly told the South Korean leader that Pyongyang is ready to talk directly with the US.
That offer was unexpected, with state media in the North quoting an official of the Asia-Pacific Peace Committee as saying that there would be no direct talks with the Trump administration in "100 or even 200 years".
The reply in Washington was cagey, with a statement from the White House suggesting that the offer could be taken up if the North is willing to include its nuclear arsenal in any discussions.
"We will see if Pyongyang's message today, that it is willing to hold talks, represents the first steps along the path to denuclearisation," Sarah Sanders, the White House press secretary, said.
The US clearly intends to keep up its present policy of maximum pressure on the North Korean regime.
Officials in Washington have suggested that US Coast Guard vessels would be deployed to operate with regional partners to more strictly enforce the sanctions on the North and further limit its access to fuel, weapons or components for its missile or nuclear programmes. (© Daily Telegraph London)