UPDATE: On March 8, President Trump agreed to meet with Kim Jong-un by May to discuss the potential denuclearization of North Korea. This is a developing story. No date has been set, and it is not yet clear what the U.S. would offer North Korea during the talks.
South Korean leaders announced to the media that Kim Jong-un, the leader of North Korea, has suggested that he's willing to negotiate giving up the country's nuclear arsenal. The New York Times reports that Kim told South Korean officials he was "willing to begin negotiations with the United States on abandoning its nuclear weapons and that it would suspend all nuclear and missile tests while engaged in such talks." If the reports are accurate, it could be a major breakthrough in de-escalating tensions in the region.
"The North Korean side clearly stated its willingness to denuclearize," South Korean president President Moon Jae-in said in a statement. "It made it clear that it would have no reason to keep nuclear weapons if the military threat to the North was eliminated and its security guaranteed."
North Korea has yet to make a similar announcement, but if its leaders do, it would be the first time they ever publicly floated the idea of parting ways with their nuclear arsenal. Previously, North Korean officials had said it would not give up its nuclear weapons during any negotiations. Experts expressed cautious optimism at the announcement, with many noting that North Korea has a history of walking back statements and promises during peace negotiations.
President Donald Trump took to Twitter to express hope that the announcement was a sign of "progress." South Korean officials said in their statement that the two nations would begin "working-level discussions" to prepare for a possible meeting between Kim and Moon.
Chung Eui-yong, the national security adviser for Moon, said Kim had been surprisingly flexible in his willingness to put the nuclear program on the table for negotiations. Evans J. R. Revere, a former State Department official who negotiated with North Korea in the past, told The New York Times that denuclearization had been a part of previous negotiations in exchange for security guarantees. Previously, he said, those were not seen as adequate by North Korea.
"With these developments, the door seems wide open to a U.S.-North Korea exploratory conversation if both sides want one," Revere told The New York Times.
If Kim and the North Korean regime do discuss stepping away from their nuclear program the U.S., it would be a discussion in stark contrast with their actions and words over the last year. Kim has repeatedly launched intercontinental ballistic missile tests, even claiming to have a "nuclear button" that could launch a nuclear warhead to the United States mainland. President Trump responded by threatening to bring "fire and fury" to North Korea and declaring on Twitter that he had a "much bigger" button than Kim.
The news comes just weeks after a handshake at the Olympics between President Moon and Kim Yo-jong, the sister of Kim Jong-un, sparked speculation about thawing tensions.
"I know it may seem like a small thing, but this is the 1st time EVER that a member of the 'Kim dynasty' has visited South Korea," JJ Green, an award-winning national security correspondent, said on Twitter. "Diplomats are very hopeful. This handshake represents a significant thaw in very icy relations & a huge gesture, that won't soon be forgotten."
Regardless, until the discussion actually occurs, it's worth taking the reported offer with a grain of salt.
Cover image via Shutterstock / vcha.