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Trump willing to talk to North

But, he said, it will only happen ‘under the right conditions’
Feb 28,2018
U.S. President Donald Trump said Monday he is willing to talk with North Korea, but “only under the right conditions,” after Pyongyang relayed that it is open to dialogue with Washington.

North Korea’s Kim Yong-chol, a vice chairman of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party, told President Moon Jae-in and other officials during his visit to South Korea for the PyeongChang Winter Olympics in Gangwon that the North is open to talks with the United States.

“They want to talk,” said Trump, as he addressed U.S. governors at the White House Monday. “And we want to talk also, only under the right conditions. Otherwise, we’re not talking.”

Trump blamed the Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama administrations for not solving the North Korea problem, adding, “it would have been much easier, in those days, than it is now.”

The Clinton administration, Trump said, “gave them billions” and “built things for them.”

He continued, “They went out of their way, and the day after the agreement was signed, they continued with nuclear research. It was horrible.” His remarks appear to be a criticism of the 1994 Agreed Framework, under which North Korea would freeze and eventually dismantle its nuclear program in return for fuel oil and assistance in the construction of two light-water reactors.

Trump said that, in contrast, he has been “very tough with them.”

He pointed out that “China has been good, but they haven’t been great” on dealing with the North Korea issue, crediting his “good relationship” with Chinese President Xi Jinping. Then he criticized Russia, apparently referring to the enforcement of international sanctions measures to cut off funding to North Korea for its nuclear and missile programs.

“And Russia is behaving badly because Russia is sending in what China is taking out,” said Trump. “I think they want to see it come to an end also. I think everybody does.”

He went onto refer to “tremendous potential loss of lives; numbers that nobody has ever even contemplated, never thought of,” without directly referring to possible military conflict with the North.

“So they want to talk,” he said, referring to Pyongyang. “First time-they want to talk. And we’ll see what happens. That’s my attitude… But something has to be done.”

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders emphasized that Washington imposed the largest-ever package of sanctions on North Korea last Friday, as it continues its campaign of maximum pressure.

“Companies and countries around the world should know that the Trump administration is 100 percent committed to the permanent denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” said Sanders in a briefing in Washington on Monday, in what could be a warning of secondary sanctions against those that choose to support North Korea.

She also said that there is a “brighter path available to North Korea.

“They have expressed a desire to hold talks,” Sanders said. “But let us be completely clear: Denuclearization must be the result of any dialogue with North Korea. Until then, the United States and the world must continue to make it known that North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs are a dead end.”

Sanders elaborated on the preconditions for talks with the North, saying that “anything that would be discussed would have to be solely on the focus of them agreeing to denuclearize the peninsula.” She added this would “be the primary factor in whether or not we would have any conversation with them.”

The White House in a statement Sunday repeated that that the Trump administration “is committed to achieving the complete, verifiable, and irreversible denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”

Some experts have pointed out that North Korea declaring a moratorium on its nuclear program and testing of missiles could set the condition for the Washington to enter initial talks with Pyongyang.

Sanders denied that the opening and closing ceremonies of the Winter Olympics were missed opportunities for dialogue between the United States and North Korea, adding that the message it had “wanted to deliver was the one of maximum pressure.”

She also rejected the notion that there is any wedge between Seoul and Washington on the matter, saying, “There’s no daylight between us and the South Koreans, particularly on what needs to happen moving forward.”

But at a vital point in time when North Korea has reached out for talks, Joseph Yun, the U.S. State Department’s special representative for North Korea policy, appointed to the position under the Barack Obama administration in 2016, has suddenly announced he is retiring at the end of the week.

Yun, who also serves as the U.S. top negotiator for the currently defunct six-party talks to denuclearize the North, traveled to Pyongyang last June to help secure the release of the late Otto Warmbier, an American student who had been detained there and died shortly after his release.

“It was completely my decision to retire at this time,” Yun told CNN Tuesday, adding that U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson accepted his resignation “with regret.”

Yun, a Korean-American diplomat born in Seoul, has been spearheading Washington’s diplomatic outreach efforts to the North. He has been a strong proponent of diplomacy and dialogue, and his retirement calls into question the future of U.S.-North Korea policy.

U.S. State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said, through a statement, that Yun, “a respected member of the Senior Foreign Service, has decided to retire for personal reasons.”

Noh Kyu-duk, spokesman of the Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said Tuesday that Yun’s retirement “was not a sudden decision because it was for personal reasons.” Susan Thornton, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs nominee, is expected to take on his role for the time being, he added.

BY SARAH KIM [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]