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Donald Trump welcomes offer of North Korea nuclear talks

People watch a TV screen showing images of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, right, South Korean President Moon Jae-in, center, and US President Donald Trump at the Seoul Railway Station in Seoul, South Korea on March 7, 2018. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)
WASHINGTON: US President Donald Trump welcomed North Korea’s breakthrough offer of denuclearization talks as positive — and apparently sincere — saying on Tuesday the standoff over Pyongyang’s weapons drive would not be allowed to “fester.”
Seoul had earlier announced the two Koreas would hold a historic summit in the Demilitarized Zone next month — and that the North’s leader Kim Jong-un was ready to halt provocative missile and nuclear tests and sit down with its old enemies.
North Korea’s reclusive leader was further said to be willing to consider the dramatic step of abandoning costly and controversial weapons of mass destruction programs if the US agrees not to attack or overthrow the regime.
Although Trump’s response was positive, his administration followed it up with another sharp rebuke when it declared that it had formally concluded that Kim’s regime had last year murdered his half-brother in a Malaysian airport with the banned VX nerve agent.
Trump also sounded a note of warning, signaling the threat of military action remains on the table should talks fail to make headway, and his administration said it would press ahead with potentially provocative joint war games with South Korea.
But the US leader was upbeat on the news from Seoul, crediting Washington’s “very, very strong” sanctions push, as well as “big help” from China, for the potential diplomatic breakthrough.
Calling the statements coming out of both Seoul and Pyongyang “very positive,” Trump refused to rule out a historic meeting with Kim.
“We have come a long way at least rhetorically with North Korea,” Trump said.
“We are going to do something, one way or the other, we are going to do something and not let that situation fester.”
North Korea’s talks offer appeared to be “sincere,” he said, adding: “We’ll soon find out.”
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged all sides to seize the opportunity presented by the talks to move toward “sustainable peace and denuclearization.”
The US says Pyongyang is testing — and will soon complete — an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of delivering a nuke to the continental United States.
That ominous technological breakthrough would put cities like Los Angeles and even New York in striking distance of a hostile regime, something that is unthinkable to many in the West Wing.
And Washington said its finding that Pyongyang was responsible for the February 2017 assassination of Kim Jong-nam, Kim’s elder half-brother and a potential rival, by spraying VX in his face at a busy Malaysian airport underlined the danger.
“This public display of contempt for universal norms against chemical weapons use further demonstrates the reckless nature of North Korea and underscores that we cannot afford to tolerate a North Korean WMD program of any kind,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said.
The apparent offer of talks, not yet publicly confirmed by North Korea, is a tantalizing one for the White House — offering a possible off-ramp from the road to a bloody war.