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US wants ‘concrete steps’ from Pyongyang as Koreas plan summit

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North Korean leader Kim Jong-un presides over a military parade on April 15, 2017. (Yonhap News/Newscom/Zuma Press/TNS)

SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea has agreed to halt nuclear and missile tests if it can hold talks with the United States about denuclearization and the establishment of diplomatic relations, the South Korean government said Tuesday.

The North Korean side is reported to have said that there is no reason for it to have nuclear weapons as long as its own state security is assured.

Chung Eui Yong, a top security adviser to South Korean President Moon Jae-In, told reporters that the feuding neighbors had agreed to hold a summit between the two countries’ leaders on the matter at the Joint Security Area in Panmunjom in April.

The North and South also agreed to set up a “hotline” between the leaders of the two countries to help reduce military tension, Chung said.

President Donald Trump responded to the news in a tweet early Tuesday, saying that North Korea’s reported stance “may be false hope, but the US is ready to go hard in either direction!”

During a meeting with Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven at the White House later in the day, Trump said Pyongyang “seemed to be acting positively,” but said it was a “very tenuous situation [that could] go either way.”

“It would be a great thing for the world, for North Korea, and for the peninsula … this has gone further than anyone has taken it before.”

“We cannot let that situation fester,” he concluded.

The U.S. would continue putting pressure on Pyongyang to disarm, Vice President Mike Pence said, adding that the U.S. “posture toward the regime will not change until we see credible, verifiable and concrete steps toward denuclearization.”

Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, meanwhile, said that U.S. sanctions against North Korea had been “a big part of the reason why they’re coming to the table now and talking about negotiating is because our sanctions have had significant economic impact.”

The two Koreas have technically been at war ever since the Korean War ended in 1953 without a peace treaty.

Since then, the development of North Korea’s nuclear arsenal has been a source of concern worldwide, with repeated missile tests last year drawing the United States, South Korea’s ally, deeper into the fray.

Tuesday’s announcement comes amid a flurry of diplomatic activity between North and South Korea, which has centered on the Winter Olympics hosted in the South Korean city of Pyeongchang last month.

On Monday, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un hosted five envoys from South Korea. It marked the first time Kim has met with high-ranking officials from the South since he took charge in 2011.

The meeting followed his sister Kim Yo Jong’s visit to the Winter Olympics in February. North Korea participated in the Games, and the two nations competed as a unified team in the women’s hockey event.

April’s summit in Panmunjom would mark only the third time that the countries’ leaders have met since 2000.

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