North and South Korea held their first talks in over two years on Tuesday, but Pyongyang adamantly refused to discuss denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula, saying its weapons are only aimed at the United States.
In a joint statement after 11 hours of talks, the two nations said they had agreed to hold military to military talks and that North Korea would send a large delegation to next month’s Winter Olympics in South Korea, Reuters reports.
Washington welcomed the talks as a first step to solving the North Korean nuclear weapons crisis.
The US State Department said Washington would be interested in joining future talks, but insisted they must be aimed at denuclearization, showing that a diplomatic breakthrough remains far off.
North Korea made a “strong complaint” after Seoul proposed talks to denuclearize the Korean peninsula.
“Clearly this is a positive development,” a spokesman for the US State Department, Steve Goldstein, said of the joint statement, while adding: “We would like nuclear talks to occur; we want denuclearization of the Korean peninsula. This is a good first step in that process.”
North and South Korea said they agreed to meet again to resolve problems and avert accidental conflict, amid high tension over the North’s program to develop nuclear missiles capable of hitting the US.
“All our weapons, including atomic bombs, hydrogen bombs and ballistic missiles, are only aimed at the United States, not our brethren, nor China and Russia,” Pyongyang’s chief negotiator, Ri Son-gwon, said.
“This is not a matter between North and South Korea, and to bring up this issue would cause negative consequences and risks turning all of today’s good achievement into nothing,” Ri said in closing remarks.
The White House and State Department did not respond to requests for comment on the US being the only potential target of North Korea’s nuclear weapons.
US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un have exchanged threats and insults in the past year, raising fears of a new war on the peninsula.
The US, which has 28,500 troops stationed in South Korea as a legacy of the 1950-1953 Korean War, initially responded coolly to the idea of inter-Korean meetings, but Trump later called them “a good thing” and said he would be willing to speak to Kim.
Washington has warned that all options, including military ones, are on the table in dealing with North Korea.
Tuesday’s talks were the first between the two Koreas since 2015 and were held at the Peace House on the South Korean side of Panmunjom truce village.
Seoul said it proposed reunions of divided families in time for February’s Lunar New Year holiday, but the joint statement made no mention of any agreement on this.
Seoul said North Korea had finished technical work to restore a military hotline, with normal communications set to resume on Wednesday.
North Korea cut communications in February 2016, following South Korea’s decision to shut down a jointly run industrial park.
Seoul also said North Korea responded “positively” to the South’s proposal for athletes from both sides to march together in the Olympic opening ceremony.
Such a joint parade has not happened since the 2007 Asian Winter Games in China.
China’s Foreign Ministry said it was happy to see talks between North and South Korea and welcomed all positive steps. Russia echoed the sentiment. “This is exactly the kind of dialogue that we said was necessary,” a Kremlin spokesman said.
Some US-based analysts have hailed the talks as an opening for diplomacy, but others see an attempt by North Korea to weaken US pressure so that it is eventually accepted as a nuclear-armed state.
Evans Revere, a former senior US diplomat for East Asia, said that by engaging Seoul, North Korea was clearly seeking to weaken the US-South Korean alliance and it was important that Seoul had raised the nuclear issue to show it was not just a US-North Korea matter.
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