Seoul: North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un has acknowledged the prospect of talks with the US, state media reported Tuesday, in his first official mention of dialogue with Washington ahead of a planned summit with President Donald Trump.
Trump agreed last month to a landmark summit with the nuclear-armed North but with no specific dates or venue set, there had been questions over Pyongyang’s intention to participate.
On Monday, Kim discussed the “prospect of the DPRK-US dialogue" with party officials, the state KCNA news agency said, referring to the North by its official acronym.
He delivered a report “on the development of the recent situation on the Korean peninsula", including the separate summit with South Korea to be held later this month, it said.
In a growing rapprochement on the Korean peninsula, Kim is scheduled to meet the South’s president Moon Jae-in for a rare inter-Korean summit on 27 April.
Trump has also agreed to meet Kim to discuss denuclearisation as soon as next month. The summit would be the first between a sitting US president and a North Korean leader.
But the North remained publicly silent for weeks after its leader’s invitation to talks was first delivered to Trump by South Korean officials. This fuelled concerns in Washington that Seoul had overstated the North’s willingness to negotiate over its own nuclear arsenal, even as officials scrambled to prepare for the prospective meeting.
Kim’s remarks on Monday break that public silence, although he did not specifically refer to a summit with Trump. They follow media reports that North Korean officials have privately told their US counterparts Kim is ready to discuss denuclearisation.
Trump said Monday he planned to meet Kim in “May or early June".
“I think there will be great respect paid by both parties and hopefully there will be a deal on denuking," he said.
At Pyongyang metro stations Tuesday, commuters crowded around newspaper stands displaying the pages of the Rodong Sinmun, the official organ of the ruling Workers’ Party, to read the news.
The paper filled its front page with KCNA’s report, along with pictures of Kim chairing the politburo meeting.
Detailed coverage of Monday’s meeting—held two days before the annual session of North Korea’s rubber-stamp parliament—is unusual and could indicate Kim’s desire to project an image of a functioning political system to the outside world, an analyst said.
“Kim Jong Un has been shifting from the military-dominated emergency system to a normal party-dominant system," said Professor Yang Moo-jin at the University of North Korean Studies. “North Korea is striving to improve ties with the South and the United States to end its status as a pariah country and establish itself as a normal state."
Pyongyang’s frenetic diplomatic activity marks a stunning turnaround after a year of high tensions which saw the North carry out nuclear and missile tests, further isolating the regime and triggering a fiery war of words with Trump.
Kim sent a high-profile delegation to the Winter Games in the South in February, before making his international debut last month with a visit to Beijing—his first overseas trip since taking power in 2011.
The North’s foreign minister Ri Yong Ho arrived in Moscow on Monday after stopping in Beijing. He also paid a visit last month to Sweden, which acts as a diplomatic go-between for Washington and Pyongyang.
If the Kim-Trump summit does take place, many remain sceptical about the whether a meeting between the two notoriously unpredictable leaders can succeed. It is scheduled to take place without the months of groundwork that usually precedes such meetings.
No specifics have yet emerged concerning the date or venue, with a third country such as Mongolia or Sweden reportedly under consideration to host the talks.
Beyond that, a detailed agenda for the talks will need to be set.
Washington’s long-held stance is that it will not accept a nuclear-armed North Korea. That means it wants to see “complete, verifiable, and irreversible" denuclearisation—a very high bar.
The North has previously demanded the withdrawal of US troops based in the South.