North Korea open to talks with United States

North Korean officials say their government is open to talks with the United States. White House: Talks must lead to end of nuclear program.

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Ben Ariel,

Flags of the United States and North Korea
Flags of the United States and North Korea

The White House said on Sunday that any talks with North Korea must lead to an end to its nuclear program, Reuters reported.

The comments came after senior officials from Pyongyang visiting South Korea said their government was open to talks with the United States.

The North Korean delegation, in Pyeongchang for the closing ceremony of the Winter Olympics, met at an undisclosed location with South Korean President Moon Jae-in, and expressed a willingness to meet with the United States, Moon's office said in a statement.

The Pyongyang delegation said developments in relations between the two Koreas and between North Korea and the United States should go hand in hand, according to the statement.

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

A North Korean delegation also visited the South for the start of Olympics. The delegation, which included North Korea leader Kim Jong Un's sister, Kim Yo Jong, held talks with the leadership of the South.

While U.S. Vice President Mike Pence was also in South Korea at the time, he avoided contact with the North Koreans and later said he did not greet the delegation given that North Korea was "the most tyrannical and oppressive regime on the planet."

Last week, the State Department revealed that Pence was ready to meet with representatives from North Korea during his visit to the Olympic Games, but North Korea cancelled at the last minute.

On Friday, the United States announced it was imposing its largest package of sanctions aimed at getting North Korea to give up its nuclear and missile programs.

On Sunday, North Korean state media accused the United States of provoking confrontation on the Korean peninsula with the sanctions, according to Reuters.

The White House, however, said its sanctions would continue.

"We will see if Pyongyang's message today, that it is willing to hold talks, represents the first steps along the path to denuclearization," the White House said in a statement.

"In the meantime, the United States and the world must continue to make clear that North Korea's nuclear and missile programs are a dead end," it added.

North Korea is seeking to develop a nuclear-tipped missile capable of reaching the U.S. mainland. U.S. President Donald Trump and Kim have taunted each other through the media in recent months.

In the most recent of its ongoing missile tests, North Korea launched a Hwasong-15 missile, a new type of intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) which officials said can fly over 13,000 km (8,080 miles).

Pyongyang said following the launch that it had test-fired its most advanced missile, putting the U.S. mainland within range, and also declared itself to be "a responsible nuclear power".

Kim claimed in January that his country has developed the capability to hit the entire U.S. mainland with its nuclear weapons.

“The entire United States is within range of our nuclear weapons, and a nuclear button is always on my desk. This is reality, not a threat,” Kim said in a televised New Year’s Day speech.

President Donald Trump later fired back, writing on Twitter, “North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un just stated that the ‘Nuclear Button is on his desk at all times.’ Will someone from his depleted and food starved regime please inform him that I too have a Nuclear Button, but it is a much bigger & more powerful one than his, and my Button works!”