US Vice President Mike Pence, center left, and President Moon Jae-in of the Republic of Korea (ROK) attend the ladies' 500 meters short-track speedskating in the Gangneung Ice Arena at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Gangneung, Feb 10, 2018. (BERNAT ARMANGUE / AP)
SEOUL/WASHINGTON – The United States may be looking more favorably at diplomatic engagement with the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), possibly holding dialogue, as the Republic of Korea (ROK) pushes forward with plans to establish grounds for a rare summit between the two Koreas.
Vice President Mike Pence said in a newspaper interview the United States and the ROK had agreed on terms for further diplomatic engagement with the DPRK, first with Seoul and then possibly leading to direct talks with Washington without pre-conditions.
Mike Pence was reported to have said he reached the new understanding with President Moon Jae-in in two substantive conversations during his visit to the ROK
The prospect of talks comes after months of tension between Pyongyang, Seoul and Washington over Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile programs, with US President Donald Trump and DPRK leader Kim Jong-un trading insults and threats of destruction amid tightening sanctions from the United Nations.
Trump has at times questioned the purpose of further talks with the DPRK.
Last year, the DPRK conducted dozens of missile launches and its sixth and largest nuclear test in defiance of UN Security Council resolutions as it pursues its goal of developing a nuclear-armed missile capable of reaching the US.
Relations between the two Koreas have improved in recent weeks, with Pyongyang agreeing to send its highest ranking delegation ever to attend the Winter Olympic Games, being held in the ROK resort of PyeongChang.
The visit included an invitation for ROK President Moon Jae-in to travel to Pyongyang for talks. Such a meeting, if it came about, would mark the first inter-Korea summit since 2007.
Speaking to the Washington Post aboard Air Force Two on his way home from the Games, Pence said Washington would keep up its "maximum pressure campaign" against Pyongyang but would be open to possible talks at the same time.
“The point is, no pressure comes off until they are actually doing something that the alliance believes represents a meaningful step toward denuclearization,” Pence was quoted on Sunday as saying. “So the maximum pressure campaign is going to continue and intensify. But if you want to talk, we’ll talk.”
A ROK government official said Seoul's stance was that separate talks with the DPRK by the ROK and the US should both lead the denuclearization of the DPRK while sanctions and pressure continue to be applied.
The ROK said it will seek ways to continue engaging the DPRK, including trying to arrange more reunions for families divided by the war and lowering military tensions.
The statement from the Ministry of Unification came after a DPRK delegation concluded its three-day visit Sunday.
Kim Yo-jong, top right, sister of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s top leader Kim Jong-un, sits alongside Kim Yong-nam, resident of the Presidium of the DPRK Supreme People's Assembly, and behind US Vice President Mike Pence as she watches the opening ceremony of the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, Feb 9, 2018. (AP / PATRICK SEMANSKY, POOL)
The two Koreas are still technically at war after the 1950-53 conflict on the Korean peninsula ended in a ceasefire and not a truce.
"(The visit) shows that North Korea has a strong will to improve inter-Korean relations and that Pyongyang can make unprecedented and bold measures if deemed necessary," the ministry said.
The DPRK is also referred to as North Korea.
The visit of the delegation included DPRK leader Kim Jong-un's younger sister, Kim Yo-jong.
Seoul’s Unification Ministry said steps to improve ties would be led by the two Koreas, but with the support of the international community.
"Under a strong position for denuclearization of the Korean peninsula, Korea will faithfully implement the international sanctions on North Korea, while also adhering to the principle of resolution through peaceful means," the statement said.
Kim Yo-jong and her delegation spent three days dining with top government officials, watching the opening ceremony and cheering for the united women's ice hockey team the two Koreas have fielded at this Olympics.
International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach will visit the DPRK after the Games as part of an agreement between the IOC and the DPRK and the ROK, a source within the Olympic movement told Reuters on Monday.