White House says North Korea is willing to talk denuclearization

FILE - In this March 27, 2018, file photo, a man watches a TV screen showing file footages of U.S. President Donald Trump, left, and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, right, during a news program at the Seoul Railway Station in Seoul, South Korea. As the U.S.-North Korea summit looms, President Donald Trump’s policy of maximum pressure on North Korea may be working - thanks to China. Beijing appears to have gone well beyond U.N. sanctions on its unruly neighbor, reducing its total imports from North Korea in the first two months this year by 78.5 and 86.1 percent in value. (AP Photo/)
Lee Jin-man/AP
A man watched a TV screen showing file footages of President Trump (left) and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

WASHINGTON — North Korea has confirmed directly to the Trump administration that it is willing to negotiate with the United States about potential denuclearization, administration officials said Sunday, a signal that the two sides have opened communications ahead of a potential summit between President Trump and Kim Jong Un next month.

The message from Pyongyang offers the first reassurance that Kim is committed to meeting Trump. The US president accepted an offer made in March on Kim’s behalf by South Korean emissaries during a meeting at the White House, but Pyongyang had not publicly commented.

‘‘The U.S. has confirmed that Kim Jong Un is willing to discuss the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,’’ said a senior administration official, who was not authorized to speak on the record. A second official also confirmed that representatives of North Korea had delivered a direct message to the United States, which was first reported by the Wall Street Journal.


At the same time, US officials cautioned that Pyongyang offered no details about its negotiating position and noted that North Korea has violated past agreements, during the George W. Bush administration, to freeze its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs.

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Foreign policy analysts warned that the Kim regime has long defined the concept of denuclearization differently than the United States has, seeking the removal of US troops from the Korean Peninsula and an agreement that the United States will no longer protect allies South Korea and Japan with its nuclear arsenal. Previous US administrations have unilaterally rejected such demands.

Despite such cautionary notes, Trump surprised his aides last month when he accepted the offer from Kim during the meeting with the South Koreans and instructed his aides to arrange it before the end of May.

The move came after months of bellicose threats between Trump and Kim, during which North Korea conducted several nuclear and ballistic missile tests.

South Korean officials used their country’s hosting of the Winter Olympics to help open a dialogue with Pyongyang, leading to the diplomatic efforts to lessen tensions. And Kim visited Beijing this month in his first trip outside North Korea since he assumed control of the country after his father, Kim Jong Il, died in 2011.


Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan is scheduled for a two-day visit with Trump this month at Mar-a-Lago, the president’s resort near Palm Beach, Fla., to coordinate strategy between the allies. President Moon Jae-in of South Korea plans to meet with Kim at the end of the month in the demilitarized zone between the North and the South.

White House officials have not said where the Trump-Kim summit will be held. The agenda of the meeting is not yet known, and North Korea has not been clear about what steps it is willing to take to move toward denuclearization. White House officials have vowed to maintain tough economic sanctions imposed on Pyongyang over the past year by the United States and the United Nations.

The Post’s John Hudson contributed to this report.