- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 11, 2018

Vice President Mike Pence said in an interview published Sunday the U.S. is ready to talk to North Korea.

“The maximum pressure campaign is going to continue and intensify. But if you want to talk, we’ll talk,” Mr. Pence told The Washington Post.

Mr. Pence, who conducted the interview on his way back to the U.S. from the Winter Olympics, said the U.S. and South Korea agreed on terms for further engagement with Pyongyang during two conversations he had with South Korean President Moon Jae-in.

The vice president reiterated that the U.S. will continue to impose increasing cuts on the regime of Kim Jong-un until North Korea takes clear steps to denuclearize its weapons program. But Mr. Pence said the U.S. is willing to talk to North Korea while exerting diplomatic and economic pressure on Pyongyang.

“The point is, no pressure comes off until they are actually doing something that the alliance believes represents a meaningful step toward denuclearization,” Mr. Pence told The Post, calling it “maximum pressure and engagement at the same time.”

Previously, Trump administration officials have said that they would only engage in talks with North Korea after Pyongyang had taken steps to denuclearize. But a month ago, after President Trump spoke by phone with Mr. Moon, the White House said the president was open to holding talks with North Korea “at the appropriate time, under the right circumstances.”

Mr. Pence and Mr. Moon held a meeting late last week at the Blue House, the presidential palace in Seoul, and also discussed the situation during a joint appearance at a speed-skating event in Pyeongchang.

The vice president said Mr. Moon assured him that he would make clear to the North Koreans that they wouldn’t get economic or diplomatic benefits for just talking. Based on that assurance, Mr. Pence said, he felt confident he could endorse a new engagement with Pyongyang.

Asked what steps North Korea would need to take to get relief from sanctions, Mr. Pence replied, “I don’t know. That’s why you have to have talks.”

On a stop in Tokyo before visiting South Korea, Mr. Pence said tough new sanctions against North Korea would be imposed soon.

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