U.S. President Donald Trump sounded open Tuesday to the possibility of an inter-Korean dialogue after North Korean leader Kim Jong Un made a rare overture toward South Korea in a New Year's address. But Trump's ambassador to the United Nations insisted talks would not be meaningful unless the North was getting rid of its nuclear weapons.
In a morning tweet, Trump said the U.S.-led campaign of sanctions and other pressure were beginning to have a "big impact" on North Korea. He referred to the recent, dramatic escape of at least two North Korean soldiers across the heavily militarized border into South Korea. He also alluded to Kim's comments Monday that he was willing to send a delegation to the Winter Olympics, which will be hosted by South Korea next month.
"Soldiers are dangerously fleeing to South Korea. Rocket man now wants to talk to South Korea for first time. Perhaps that is good news, perhaps not - we will see!" Trump said, using his derisive moniker for the young North Korean leader.
In response to Kim's overture, South Korea on Tuesday offered high-level talks on Jan. 9 at the shared border village of Panmunjom to discuss Olympic cooperation and how to improve overall ties.
North Korea did not immediately react to the South's proposal. If there are talks, they would be the first formal dialogue between the Koreas since December 2015. Relations have plunged as the North has accelerated its nuclear and ballistic missile development that now poses a direct threat to America, South Korea's crucial ally.
The U.S. administration, however, will be suspicious of any effort by Kim to drive a wedge between Seoul and Washington. Pyongyang could view a closer relationship with Seoul has a way for reducing its growing international isolation and relief from sanctions that are starting to bite the North's meager economy.
In his New Year's address, Kim repeated fiery nuclear threats against the United States. He said he has a "nuclear button" on his office desk and warned that "the whole territory of the U.S. is within the range of our nuclear strike."
North Korea has been punished with unprecedented sanctions at the U.N. over its weapons programs, and U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley warned Tuesday of more measure if the North conducts another missile test.
"We won't take any of the talks seriously if they don't do something to ban all nuclear weapons in North Korea," Haley told reporters when asked about the prospect of an inter-Korean dialogue. "We consider this to be a very reckless regime. We don't think we need a band aid, and we don't think we need to smile and take a picture."
Kim's overture, however, was welcome news for South Korea's liberal President Moon Jae-in, who is less confrontational toward North Korea than Trump and favors dialogue to ease the North's nuclear threats. Moon has long said he sees the Pyeongchang Olympics as a chance to improve inter-Korean ties.