February 15, 2018 4:51 am JST

US calls North Korea out on charm offensive

Any talks should center on denuclearization, State Department official says

TSUYOSHI NAGASAWA, Nikkei staff writer

From left to right, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, South Korean President Moon Jae-in and U.S. Vice President Mike Pence meet at Pyeongchang, South Korea on Feb. 9. © Kyodo

WASHINGTON -- Despite recent comments hinting at a potential dialogue between the U.S. and North Korea, Washington remains firm that any talks must be predicated on ending Pyongyang's nuclear and missile development programs.

"The maximum pressure campaign is going to continue and intensify," U.S. Vice President Mike Pence recently said in an interview with the Washington Post. "But if you want to talk, we'll talk."

His remarks caused a stir, as they suggested that Washington may be willing to talk even if Pyongyang does not express any willingness to abandon its nuclear weapons or take concrete action toward that outcome.

When asked about Pence's comments at a press briefing on Tuesday, U.S. State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert said, "you may have to have a preliminary chat about what that discussion would look like."

But Nauert stressed there was no change to Washington's stance on Pyongyang. If the dialogue were to happen, it would have to be aimed at denuclearization, she said.

The North has used the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics to convey a conciliatory image, while continuing its nuclear and missile development. The U.S. does not want the international community to think it is inflexibly rejecting any possibility of a dialogue. But it is unlikely that North Korea would come to the negotiating table for its denuclearization.

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