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S. Korean leader urges U.S. and N. Korea to make talks possible


    South Korean President Moon Jae-in, center, and International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach, right, chat with the King of Sweden, Carl XVI Gustaf, second from left, at the closing ceremony of the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, on Feb. 25.

SEOUL, South Korea >> South Korea’s president, Moon Jae-in, urged the United States and North Korea today to soften their uncompromising stances so that talks could start on defusing the crisis prompted by the North’s nuclear program and Washington’s threats to stop it with military force.

During a meeting with China’s vice premier, Liu Yandong, Moon said both North Korea and the United States had begun showing a willingness for talks. But Moon said both sides still needed to step back from their uncompromising stances to make talks possible, according to a statement from his office.

“The United States needs to lower the threshold for dialogue, and North Korea should express a willingness to denuclearize,” Moon was quoted as saying, summarizing the obstacles he faced in trying to get the two countries to sit down for talks.

Moon’s remarks came a day after he met Kim Yong Chol, a senior North Korean official who attended the closing ceremony of the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, on Sunday. During the meeting, Kim expressed the North’s willingness to talk to U.S. officials, according to Moon’s office. Given the deep mistrust between both sides, though, that is far from an assurance that negotiations will occur.

Moon, who has long advocated dialogue with North Korea, used the Olympics to court the North and in doing so lowered tensions that escalated last year amid a string of nuclear and missile tests by the North.

But the United States and North Korea remain far apart on the terms under which they would be ready to talk to each other.

On Sunday, the White House reiterated that it was interested only in talks that would result in the North’s denuclearization and that it would continue applying maximum pressure until that goal was met. It indicated that it was waiting for signals from the North that it would be interested in such talks as well.

North Korea has said that its nuclear weapons will not be bargained away. In recent weeks it has warned that the lull created by the Olympics will be short-lived if the United States and South Korea resume their annual joint military exercises. The drills were postponed until after the Paralympics in Pyeongchang from March 9-18.

“It is important for the United States and North Korea to sit down soon for talks,” Moon told Liu, who also attended the closing ceremony.

South Korea and China agreed to work together to help bring the United States and North Korea to the negotiating table, Moon’s office said.

Time is running out for Moon, who wants to accept a proposal from North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong Un, for an early summit meeting to improve ties and further lower tensions, analysts have said. But to make his inter-Korean agenda sustainable, Moon needs the United States and North Korea to make progress in denuclearization talks.

“Seoul and Washington will need to figure out how to sequence the inter-Korean summit, joint military exercises and efforts to hold potential U.S.-North Korea preliminary talks because each of them will affect the other,” said Duyeon Kim, a visiting senior research fellow at the Korean Peninsula Future Forum in Seoul. She added that Moon faced a “bigger dilemma” in trying to hold an inter-Korean meeting while also keeping the United States happy.

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