U.S. officials meet with North Korea despite flip-flops over Trump-Kim summit
Pyongyang still committed to 'complete' denuclearization, South Korean president says
American and North Korean officials met Sunday at the border between North and South Korea in preparation for a possible North Korea-U.S. summit, as North Korea's Kim Jong-un reportedly reaffirmed his commitment to meet with U.S. President Donald Trump.
Both Pyongyang and Washington are pressing ahead on plans for a summit after Trump pulled out of the proposed June 12 meeting on Thursday, only to reconsider the decision the next day.
"A U.S. delegation is in ongoing talks with North Korean officials at Panmunjom," spokesperson Heather Nauert said, referring to a village in the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) that runs along the heavily armed border between North and South Korea.
"We continue to prepare for a meeting between the president and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un," she said in a statement.
Trump posted a message about the preparations in a Tweet on Sunday afternoon.
Our United States team has arrived in North Korea to make arrangements for the Summit between Kim Jong Un and myself. I truly believe North Korea has brilliant potential and will be a great economic and financial Nation one day. Kim Jong Un agrees with me on this. It will happen!—@realDonaldTrump
In addition to the border talks, White House spokesperson Sarah Sanders said a "pre-advance team" left for Singapore on Sunday morning to work on logistics for a possible summit.
Earlier on Sunday, South Korean President Moon Jae-in said he and North Korea's Kim had agreed during a surprise meeting on Saturday that the North Korea-U.S. summit must be held.
Chairman Kim and I have agreed that the June 12 summit should be held successfully.- South Korean President Moon Jae-in
The weekend meetings were the latest dramatic turn in a week of diplomatic ups and downs over the prospects for an unprecedented summit between the United States and North Korea, and the strongest sign yet that the leaders of the two Koreas are trying to keep the meeting on track.
North Korea has faced years of economic sanctions over its nuclear and missile programs since it conducted its first nuclear test in 2006. The United States has struggled to slow the isolated country's weapons programs, which have become a security priority for Washington given Pyongyang's promise to develop a nuclear-tipped missile capable of hitting the U.S. mainland.
A U.S. official told Reuters that Sung Kim, the former U.S. ambassador to South Korea, would lead an American delegation to meet North Korean officials at the border. Pentagon official Randall Schriver was part of the U.S. team, the official said.
Meetings to continue Monday
The Washington Post first reported that the team, which also included Allison Hooker, the Korea expert on the White House National Security Council, met with Choe Son-hui, the North Korean vice foreign minister.
The Post said the meetings would continue Monday and Tuesday at Tongilgak, the North's building in Panmunjom, where the truce suspending the 1950-53 Korean War was signed.
In their Saturday meeting, Kim reaffirmed his commitment to "complete" denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and to a planned meeting with Trump, Moon said.
"Chairman Kim and I have agreed that the June 12 summit should be held successfully, and that our quest for the Korean Peninsula's denuclearization and a perpetual peace regime should not be halted," Moon said.
Moon acknowledged Pyongyang and Washington may have differing expectations of what denuclearization means, and he urged both sides to hold working-level talks to resolve their differences.
The United States has demanded the "complete, verifiable, and irreversible" dismantlement of North Korea's nuclear weapons program. Pyongyang has rejected unilateral disarmament and has always couched its language in terms of denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.
In previous, failed talks, North Korea said it could consider giving up its arsenal if Washington removed its troops from South Korea and withdrew its so-called nuclear umbrella of deterrence from South Korea and Japan.
North Korea has tested dozens of missiles of various types in the past two years, including one launch of its largest-ever intercontinental ballistic missile, which is theoretically capable of hitting anywhere in the United States, on Nov. 29.
American officials are skeptical that Kim will ever fully abandon his nuclear arsenal, while Moon said North Korea is not
convinced it can trust security guarantees from the U.S.
Trump scrapped the summit after repeated threats by North Korea to pull out over what it saw as confrontational remarks by U.S. officials demanding unilateral disarmament.
North Korea had sharply criticized suggestions by Trump's national security adviser, John Bolton, and Vice-President Mike Pence that it could share the fate of Libya if it did not swiftly surrender its nuclear arsenal. Libyan leader Moammar
Gadhafi was deposed and killed by NATO-backed militants in 2011 after halting his nascent nuclear program.
Trump dismissed the so-called Libya model. Sanders, his spokesperson, told Fox News on May 15: "This is the President Trump model. He's going to run this the way he sees fit."
Kim had requested a meeting with Moon to clarify what the "Trump model" meant, Yonhap news agency of South Korea reported, citing an unidentified foreign affairs source.
With files from CBC News