Raising Hopes, North Korea Offers to Talk About Its Nuclear Arsenal
SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea’s sudden willingness to bargain with the Trump administration over scrapping its atomic arsenal surprised the world on Tuesday, setting in motion an unpredictable diplomatic dance with the United States and South Korea, but raising hopes that one of the most dangerous confrontations of the nuclear age could be defused.
South Korean envoys who met with the North Korean leader, Kim Jong Un, conveyed his position in a statement after a two-day visit to North Korea. They also said he would suspend all nuclear and missile tests if such talks took place.
在朝鲜进行了为期两天的访问后，与朝鲜领导人金正恩(Kim Jong Un)会面的韩国特使用一则声明中转达了他的态度。他们还表示，如果谈判得以进行，金正恩将会暂停一切核试验和导弹试验。
“The North Korean side clearly stated its willingness to denuclearize,” the statement said. “It made it clear that it would have no reason to keep nuclear weapons if the military threat to the North was eliminated and its security guaranteed.”
The statement said North Korea had made clear that it wished for “a heartfelt dialogue with the United States on the issues of denuclearization and normalizing relations with the United States,” and that “while dialogue is continuing, it will not attempt any strategic provocations, such as nuclear and ballistic missile tests.”
The two Koreas also agreed to hold a summit meeting between Kim and President Moon Jae-in of South Korea on the countries’ border in late April and establish a telephone hotline before then, linking the two leaders directly, Moon’s office said.
North Korea, which has been saying its nuclear weapons are nonnegotiable, did not immediately provide its own version of what Kim had offered. That initial silence fed cautions he was raising premature optimism, or perhaps strategizing to buy time.
But it seemed unlikely the South Korean delegation would have publicized such an offer without the North’s assurances, after what by all accounts was an extraordinarily cordial visit. Even President Donald Trump, who has mocked Kim and vowed “fire and fury” that would obliterate North Korea if its nuclear forces ever attacked, offered a guarded but positive response.
“For the first time in many years, a serious effort is being made by all parties concerned,” Trump said on Twitter. “The World is watching and waiting! May be false hope, but the U.S. is ready to go hard in either direction!”
Later in Washington, Trump told reporters: “The statements coming out of South Korea and North Korea have been very positive. That would be a great thing for the world.”
White House officials were more cautious, with one senior official noting that the United States has negotiated with North Korea over its nuclear program off-and-on for 27 years, and that the North Koreans have broken every agreement they ever made with the Americans.
The United States, this official said, has no current plans to further delay joint military exercises with South Korea, suspended for the Winter Olympics last month in Pyeongchang, South Korea. Those exercises are scheduled to resume in April, after the Paralympic Games in Pyeongchang.
While the Trump administration is intrigued by North Korea’s offer — as relayed through the South Koreans — the senior official noted that North Korea could still manufacture missiles and bombs during a pause in testing.
Two top advisers to Moon who met with Kim will visit the White House later this week to give a more detailed briefing on their talks. But the senior official said the United States had confidence in the preliminary assessment they had provided.
That assessment signals the first time Kim has indicated a willingness to discuss abandoning nuclear arms in return for security guarantees from the United States, which has technically been in a state of war with North Korea for nearly seven decades.
The South Korean delegation gave no indication that North Korea would start dismantling nuclear or missile programs anytime soon. Nonetheless, the delegation’s visit represented major progress in Moon’s efforts to improve relations with North Korea. Those efforts advanced considerably during the Winter Olympics, to which Kim sent athletes, entertainers and political delegations that included his sister.
A senior member of the South Korean delegation that returned on Tuesday, Moon’s national security adviser, Chung Eui-yong, said Kim had been unexpectedly flexible.
Chung told reporters in Seoul, the South Korean capital, that the delegation had anticipated Kim would insist that the South and the United States not hold their military exercises. The South Koreans were wrong.
“Kim Jong Un simply said he could understand why the joint exercises must resume in April on the same scale as before,” Chung said. “But he said he expected them to be readjusted if the situation on the Korean Peninsula stabilizes in the future.”
Chung said the South Koreans believed their agreements with North Korea would be enough to start a dialogue between Washington and the North. He also said he was carrying additional messages from Kim to the Trump administration that he could not reveal.
“There was no other specific demand from North Korea in returning to dialogue,” he said. “They only said they wanted to be treated like a serious dialogue partner.”
For Trump, the overture by North Korea sets in motion a challenging phase that will call on the United States to exercise diplomatic muscles after a long stretch in which the White House relied on economic pressure, backed by threats of military force.
That challenge will be compounded because the State Department’s veteran North Korea negotiator, Joseph Yun, recently announced his retirement from the Foreign Service. Another experienced negotiator, Victor Cha, was recently sidelined when the White House decided not to proceed with his nomination as ambassador to South Korea.
这项挑战会变得更加复杂，因为美国国务院的资深朝鲜谈判代表尹汝尚(Joseph Yun)不久前宣布从驻外机关事务局(Foreign Service)退休。另一位经验丰富的谈判代表车维德(Victor Cha)最近则遭遇出局，白宫决定不继续提名他担任驻韩国大使。
Trump’s announcement of tariffs on steel could be an even greater source of friction. South Korea is the third-largest exporter of steel to the United States, accounting for nearly 10 percent of all exports.
While the president has floated the idea of excluding Canada and Mexico from the tariffs, provided they agree to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement, he has said nothing about South Korea. Other administration officials said South Korea was among the worst offenders in terms of dumping steel into the American market.
尽管特朗普提出，如果加拿大和墨西哥同意重新协商《北美自由贸易协定》(North American Free Trade Agreement)，就把它们排除在关税征收范围之外，但对韩国他只字未提。另一些联邦政府官员说，在对美国市场倾销钢铁方面，韩国是最严重的。
Trump is already demanding that South Korea overhaul its free trade agreement with the United States. Some in the administration have urged Trump to delay punitive trade measures while South Korea and the United States jointly deal with the North Korea issue.