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The Journal Gazette

Wednesday, March 07, 2018 1:00 am

N. Korea: No weapons tests during talks

Coats doubts nation's attempt at turnaround

Washington Post

TOKYO – North Korea has vowed not to test missiles or nuclear weapons during proposed talks with the United States and South Korea, officials from South Korea said Tuesday after returning from surprisingly productive meetings in Pyongyang, North Korea.

North Korea said it was prepared to hold “candid talks” with the U.S. about denuclearization and normalizing relations and “made it clear” it would not resume provocations while engaged in dialogue, the officials said upon returning to Seoul.

North Korea did not confirm South Korea's version of events, saying simply that the two sides “made a satisfactory agreement” during the meeting between the North's leader, Kim Jong Un, and envoys sent by the South's president, Moon Jae-in.

There is plenty of cause for skepticism. North Korea has previously said it would give up its nuclear weapons, and has reneged on every deal it has ever signed. Nor was the scope of any proposed talks clear. At various times, Pyongyang has demanded the full withdrawal of the U.S. military from South Korea or the withdrawal of “nuclear” troops and weapons – of which there currently are none in the South. Pyongyang had also demanded the cancellation of U.S. military exercises in exchange for eliminating its own weapons.

President Donald Trump said Tuesday that the United States remained “determined to achieve a denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.” He did not directly address the possibility of talks, but said of the news from Seoul, “hopefully it's positive, hopefully it will lead to a very positive result.”

Speaking at a news conference with Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven, Trump was asked “to what do you owe” the reported North Korean offer, Trump replied “Me,” apparently referring to U.S. sanctions and his harsh personal criticism of Kim. “No,” he quickly countered as silence engulfed the room. “Nobody got that.”

“I think they are sincere, but I think they are sincere also because of the sanctions and what we're doing in respect to North Korea,” Trump said, describing the measures as “very strong and very biting.” He also said that “the great help we've been given from China” has played a role, although there are repeated reports of North Korea using Chinese companies to evade international sanctions.

“I'm quite skeptical about all of this,” Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats told the Senate Armed Services Committee. “Maybe this is a breakthrough. I seriously doubt it, but hope springs eternal.”

Coats and other intelligence officials at the hearing said they had seen no evidence of a turnaround in North Korean behavior.