North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has agreed to stop nuclear and missile tests if his country holds talks with the United States on denuclearizing the Korean peninsula.
The breakthrough was announced Tuesday by Chung Eui-yong, South Korea’s presidential national security director, after a rare visit to Pyongyang.
“The North expressed its willingness to hold a heartfelt dialogue with the United States on the issues of denuclearization and normalizing relations with the United States,” he said in a statement. “It made it clear that while dialogue is continuing, it will not attempt any strategic provocations, such as nuclear and ballistic missile tests.”
The promising move followed a flurry of cooperative steps taken by the Koreas during last month’s Winter Olympic games in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
President Trump welcomed the turn of events with a note of caution.
“We will see what happens!” he tweeted.
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In a later tweet, he described it as “possible progress being made in talks with North Korea.”
“For the first time in many years, a serious effort is being made by all parties concerned. The World is watching and waiting! May be false hope, but the U.S. is ready to go hard in either direction!” wrote the president.
The shift from the North also follows increasing pressure from the United States. The Trump administration has ratcheted up economic sanctions, while Mr. Trump took a hard line and demanded a nuclear-free Korean peninsula in exchange for talks.
The standoff was repeatedly punctuated by Mr. Trump and Mr. Kim trading insults, including the U.S. president taunting his foe as “Little Rocket Man.”
The North had steadfastly refused to even consider surrendering its nuclear arsenal or missile program, now capable of hitting the U.S. mainland and heralded by Mr. Kim as an essential deterrent against American invasion plans.
Vice President Mike Pence, who led the U.S. delegation to the Olympic opening ceremony and avoided interaction there with North Korea officials, vowed to keep pressure on Mr. Kim’s rogue regime.
“Whichever direction talks with North Korea go, we will be firm in our resolve,” he said. “All options are on the table and our posture toward the regime will not change until we see credible, verifiable and concrete steps toward denuclearization.”
Mr. Chung led a 10-member South Korean delegation that met with Mr. Kim during a two-day visit to Pyongyang, North Korea’s capital. They returned on Tuesday.
The two Koreas also agreed to hold their third-ever summit at a tense border village in late April.
Mr. Chung said the leaders will establish a “hotline” communication channel to lower military tensions and would speak together before the planned summit.
The two past summits, in 2000 and 2007, were held between Mr. Kim’s late father, Kim Jong-il, and two liberal South Korean presidents. They resulted in a series of cooperative projects between the Koreas that were scuttled during subsequent conservative administrations in South Korea.
Mr. Chung said North Korea agreed to suspend nuclear and missile tests for as long as it holds talks with the United States.
North Korea also made it clear that it would not need to keep its nuclear weapons if military threats against it are removed and it receives a credible security guarantee, Mr. Chung said.
• This story is based in part on wire service reports.