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US team in N. Korea for talks

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SEOUL/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – US President Donald Trump said a US team had arrived in North Korea to prepare for a proposed summit between him and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, which Trump pulled out of last week before reconsidering.

Earlier, the US State Department said US and North Korean officials met at Panmunjom, a village in the Demilitarised Zone (DMZ) that runs along the heavily armed border between North and South Korea.

“Our United States team has arrived to make arrangements for the Summit between Kim Jong Un and myself,” Trump wrote on Twitter, in Washington’s first confirmation that US officials entered North Korea for the talks.

“I believe North Korea has brilliant potential and will be a great economic and financial Nation one day. Kim Jong Un agrees with me on this. It will happen!” Trump said.

In addition to those talks, White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said a “pre-advance team” left for Singapore – where the summit has been expected to take place – on Sunday morning to work on logistics.

The weekend talks were the latest twist in a week of diplomatic ups and downs over the prospects for an unprecedented US-North Korea summit, and the strongest sign yet that the two Koreas’ leaders are trying to keep the meeting on track.

The United States has struggled to slow the isolated country’s weapons programs, which have become a security priority for Washington given Pyongyang’s promise to develop a nuclear-tipped missile capable of hitting the US mainland.

A US official told Reuters that Sung Kim, the former US ambassador to South Korea, would lead an American delegation to meet North Korean officials at the border. Pentagon official Randall Schriver was part of the US team, the official said.

The Washington Post first reported that the team, which also included Allison Hooker, the Korea expert on the White House National Security Council, met with Choe Son Hui, the North Korean vice foreign minister.

The Post said the talks at the border would continue on Monday and Tuesday at Tongilgak, the North’s building in Panmunjom, where the truce suspending the 1950-53 Korean War was signed.

Moon told reporters here: “Chairman Kim and I agreed that the June 12 summit should be held successfully, and that our quest for the Korean Peninsula’s denuclearization and a perpetual peace regime should not be halted,” Moon said.

In previous, failed talks, North Korea said it could consider giving up its arsenal if Washington removed its troops from South Korea and withdrew its so-called nuclear umbrella of deterrence from South Korea and Japan.

American officials are skeptical Kim will ever fully abandon his nuclear arsenal. Moon said North Korea was not convinced it could trust security guarantees from the US.

A senior South Korean official said later the two Koreas were discussing a possible non-aggression pledge and the start of peace treaty talks as a way of addressing Pyongyang’s security concerns before US-North Korean negotiations.

A statement from North Korea’s state news agency, KCNA, said Kim expressed “his fixed will” on the possibility of meeting Trump as previously planned.

Trump on Thursday scrapped the summit after repeated threats by North Korea to pull out over what it saw as confrontational remarks by US officials demanding unilateral disarmament.

Kim and Trump’s initial decision to meet followed months of war threats and insults between the leaders over the North’s nuclear program.

Trump said on Saturday he was still looking at a June 12 summit in Singapore and that talks were going well.

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