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South Korea sends envoys to North as Trump hints US willing to talk

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South Korean President Moon Jae-in delivers a speech during the 99th anniversary celebration of the March First Independence Movement in Seoul on March 1, 2018. Reuters

SEOUL (Reuters) – South Korea is sending a delegation led by senior security officials for a two-day visit to North Korea starting today, the presidential Blue House announced yesterday, as US President Donald Trump suggests that he is ready to talk to Pyongyang.

For its part, North Korea said it was not begging to talk with Washington and denounced upcoming US-South Korean joint-military exercises, warning that it would take counter measures against the US if they went ahead.

The drills will take place next month, a South Korean presidential security adviser said according to the Yonhap news agency. They had been delayed until after the Winter Olympics and Paralympic games in South Korea.

South Korea’s presidential Blue House said in a statement that National Security Office (NSO) head Chung Eui-yong and National Intelligence Service (NIS) chief Suh Hoon, a veteran of past negotiations with the North, will be among the 10-member South Korean delegation visiting Pyongyang.

The visit was part of an effort to lower tensions on the Korean peninsula as well as possibly arrange talks between North Korea and the United States, it said.

After the visit to North Korea the envoys will travel to the US to brief officials, and Seoul said it would also coordinate closely with officials in Japan and China.

During a joke-filled monologue at a dinner with journalists in Washington on Saturday, Mr Trump suggested that the US will be meeting with North Korea but has told Pyongyang it must first “denuke.”

“We will be meeting and we’ll see if anything positive happens,” he added. It was unclear if Mr Trump was joking or if formal US-North Korea talks were imminent.

Last month, US Vice President Mike Pence was scheduled to meet with North Korean officials, including leader Kim Jong Un’s sister, while in South Korea for the Winter Olympics but the North Koreans canceled at the last minute.

North Korea reiterated on Saturday that it was willing to talk to the US but said it would never sit with any precondition.

A North Korean foreign ministry spokesman was quoted by KCNA as saying “we will neither beg for dialogue nor evade the military option claimed by the US.”

A commentary published by North Korea’s official KCNA news agency warned that North Korea would “counter the US” if joint military drills go forward.

The Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang last month gave a boost to recent engagement between the two Koreas after more than a year of sharply rising tensions over the North’s missile programme and its sixth and largest nuclear test in defiance of UN sanctions.

In sending an envoy to Pyongyang, South Korean President Moon Jae-in said he would be seeking to reciprocate Kim Jong Un’s decision to send a senior delegation, including his sister, Kim Yo Jong, to the Olympics, marking the first visit by a member of the Kim family since the 1950-53 Korean War.

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