North Korea and the United States will hold working-level nuclear talks on Saturday, Pyongyang said, signalling the resumption of a dialogue process that has been effectively stalled since the collapse of a summit in February.
The two sides agreed to have “preliminary contact” on October 4 and hold working-level negotiations the following day, the North’s vice foreign minister Choe Son Hui said in a statement carried by the official Korean Central News Agency.
“It is my expectation that the working-level negotiations would accelerate the positive development of the DPRK-US relations,” she added without disclosing the talks’ venue.
North Korean officials were “ready” to enter the discussions, she said. There was no immediate confirmation from the American side.
Negotiations between Pyongyang and Washington have been gridlocked since a second summit between North Korea’s Kim Jong Un and President Donald Trump in February ended without a deal.
The two agreed to restart working-level dialogue during an impromptu meeting at the Demilitarized Zone dividing the two Koreas in June, but the North’s anger at a US refusal to cancel joint military deals with South Korea placed the process on hold.
Relations thawed last month after Trump fired his hawkish national security advisor John Bolton, who Pyongyang had repeatedly denounced as a warmonger.
North Korea’s chief negotiator also responded positively to Trump’s suggestion that the two sides try a “new method” of approaching their discussions.
Trump had criticized Bolton’s suggestion of the “Libyan model” for North Korea, a reference to a denuclearization deal with the African nation’s former dictator Moamer Kadhafi — who was killed after being deposed in 2011.
Pyongyang had bristled at that comment, which Trump said had “set us back very badly”.
Despite the gridlock, Pyongyang has continued to praise Trump, calling him “bold” and “wise”.
Analysts say Bolton’s dismissal from the White House could have helped Pyongyang’s decision to come to the table.
South Korea’s presidential Blue House welcomed the resumption of dialogue between the North and the US.
“We hope to see the realization of practical steps towards permanent peace regime and complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula through the upcoming talks,” said spokeswoman Ko Min-jung.
The announcement on the new talks could be an “indication” that the two sides have narrowed their differences behind the scenes, said Koh Yu-hwan, professor of North Korean studies at Dongguk University in Seoul.
“The North has demanded security guarantee in return for denuclearization measures and called on the US to come up with ‘new calculation’, he said.
“Consensus between the two might have been reached regarding the matter in the lead-up to the Tuesday announcement,” he added.