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North Korea ‘open to talks with United States’

World News | Published:

Kim Yong Chol said North Korean leader Kim Jong Un wanted to improve ties with Washington.

Kim Yong Chol, vice chairman of North Korea’s ruling Workers’ Party Central Committee, watches the closing ceremony of the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, Pool)

A North Korean envoy has said his country is willing to open talks with the United States.

Kim Yong Chol, who Seoul believes masterminded two attacks in 2010 that killed 50 South Koreans, was in South Korea for the end of the Olympics.

He said North Korean leader Kim Jong Un wanted to improve ties with Washington and had “ample intentions of holding talks” with its rival, according to the South’s presidential office.

He made the remarks during a meeting with South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who is eager to engage the North after one of the most hostile periods in recent years on the Korean Peninsula.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in, second from left (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, Pool)
South Korean President Moon Jae-in, second from left (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, Pool)

Mr Kim later sat in the VIP box at Olympic Stadium in Pyeongchang for the Olympic closing ceremonies, just feet away from Donald Trump’s daughter, Ivanka, and the top US military commander on the peninsula, General Vincent Brooks.

The former anti-Seoul military intelligence chief watched K-pop divas and fireworks and stood for the South Korean national anthem.

Ivanka Trump was seated near Kim Yong Chol (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)
Ivanka Trump was seated near Kim Yong Chol (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)

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Mr Moon has yet to accept the North’s invitation for a summit, but he has advocated engagement with Pyongyang his entire political career and likely wants to go.

But he must first strike a balance with Washington, which has a policy meant to isolate and sanction the North until it agrees to give up its nukes. Some observers believe that Pyongyang is trying to drive a wedge to win concessions from Seoul.

Mr Kim was head of the North’s military intelligence when the 2010 attacks on South Korea took place and is currently a vice chairman of the ruling party’s central committee tasked with inter-Korea relations.

With decades of experience, he is one of the most powerful people in the North’s ruling regime. Seoul decided to temporarily take him off a blacklist to allow the visit.

South Korea is hoping to ease tensions by allowing the North to participate in the games and send senior delegations.

Kim Jong Un’s sister, Kim Yo Jong, attended the opening ceremony in an historic first — no member of the ruling Kim family had ever travelled to the South before. She invited Mr Moon to a summit with her brother in Pyongyang. The delegation to the closing ceremony was expected to follow up on that invitation while in South Korea.

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