SEOUL — North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un discussed future talks with the US at a party meeting, state media reported on Tuesday, in his first official mention of dialogue with Washington ahead of a planned summit with President Donald Trump.
Trump agreed last month to a landmark summit with the nuclear-armed North -- which would be the first between a sitting US president and a North Korean leader -- but no specific dates or venue have been set, with questions mounting over Pyongyang’s participation.
At the meeting of party officials on Monday, Kim discussed the "development of the north-south relations at present and the prospect of the DPRK-US dialogue", the official KCNA news agency said, referring to the North by its official acronym.
He delivered a report "on the development of the recent situation on the Korean peninsula", including the separate summit with South Korea to be held later this month, it said.
In a growing rapprochement on the Korean peninsula, Kim is scheduled to meet the South’s president Moon Jae-in for a rare inter-Korean summit on April 27.
Trump has agreed to meet Kim for a historic US-North Korean summit to discuss denuclearisation as soon as next month.
But the North had remained publicly silent on the US summit since its leader’s invitation to talks was delivered to Trump by South Korean officials last month.
As officials in Washington scrambled to prepare for the prospective meeting, the weeks-long silence had reportedly made the White House nervous that Seoul had overstated the North’s willingness to negotiate over its own nuclear arsenal.
Kim’s remarks on Monday break that public silence, although he did not specifically refer to a "summit" with Trump.
Following multiple media reports of back-channel talks between the Cold War rivals, Trump said Monday he planned to meet Kim in "May or early June".
"I think there will be great respect paid by both parties and hopefully there will be a deal on denuking," he said.
"Hopefully it will be a relationship that will be much different than it has been for many, many years."
North Korea’s recent frenetic diplomatic activity marks a stunning turnaround after a year of heightened tensions which saw the North fire multiple missiles and carry out its most powerful nuclear test, further isolating the regime and triggering a fiery war of words with Trump.
Since sending a high-profile delegation along with athletes to the Winter Games in the South in February, Kim has made his international debut with a visit to Beijing -- his first overseas trip since taking power in 2011.
The North’s foreign minister Ri Yong Ho arrived in Moscow on Monday after making stops in Beijing, Azerbaijan and other former Soviet republics.
Ri also paid a visit last month to Sweden, which acts as a diplomatic go-between for Washington and Pyongyang.
If the summit does take place, many remain sceptical about the whether a meeting between the two notoriously unpredictable leaders can succeed.
It is scheduled to take place without the months of groundwork that usually precedes such meetings.
No specifics have yet emerged concerning the date or venue of the proposed summit, with a third country such as Mongolia or Sweden under consideration to host the talks, according to multiple reports.
Beyond that, a detailed agenda for the talks will need to be set.
Washington’s long-held stance is that it will not accept a nuclear-armed North Korea. That means it wants to see "complete, verifiable, and irreversible" denuclearisation -- a very high bar.
The North has previously demanded the withdrawal of US troops based in the South and the end of the security alliance between Seoul and Washington -- an extraordinary concession that it is hard to imagine any previous US president acceding to. — AFP