The US is ready to sit down with North Korea to resume long-awaited working-level nuclear talks, a US envoy said on Wednesday.
Nuclear discussions between Washington and Pyongyang have stalled since a second summit in Hanoi in February ended without an agreement over differences on the extent of denuclearisation and sanctions relief in return.
But anticipation for renewed dialogue has been on the rise after the US and its security ally South Korea wrapped up their two-week joint military drill on Tuesday.
“We are prepared to engage as soon as we hear from our counterparts in North Korea,” said Stephen Biegun, the US special representative for North Korea, after his meeting with South Korean counterpart Lee Do-hoon in Seoul.
The comments come amid speculation that Americans could meet with North Koreans at the demilitarised zone dividing the North and South to kick start working-level talks during Biegun’s three-day stay in Seoul, which began Tuesday.
The US envoy denied media reports he would soon take a diplomatic posting in Russia, saying he remained “focused on making progress” with North Koreans and “fully committed” to the goal of the denuclearisation in the North.
Pyongyang considers the joint military exercise by the allies a rehearsal for invasion and has routinely expressed anger at the war games.
The drills are a “grave military provocation” and a “challenge to and mockery of our efforts for peace”, the North’s official Rodong Sinmun newspaper said in a commentary.
The piece also said that the North’s own “measures for bolstering up military capability for self-defence” are consequently “very just ones”, in reference to a slew of missile launches in recent weeks.
It said the drills are an “open disregard and wanton violation” of the joint statement adopted in the first US-North Korea summit in Singapore last year, in which US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un agreed to pursue new US-North Korea relations for “peace and prosperity”.
North Korea last week called South Korean President Moon Jae-in an “impudent guy rare to be found” for hoping to resume inter-Korean talks while continuing military drills with the US.
Trump tweeted earlier this month North Korean leader Kim expressed his hope – in a letter hand-delivered to him – for resuming dialogue “as soon as the joint US/South Korea joint exercise are over”.