Vice President Mike Pence told The Washington Post on Sunday that the U.S. is willing to sit down and talk with North Korea while still imposing sanctions and urging Pyongyang to give up its nuclear weapons programs.
Previously, the Trump administration had said it would not enter talks with North Korea until concrete steps were being made toward denuclearization. Pence said he had two conversations with South Korean President Moon Jae-in while in Pyeongchang for the Winter Olympics, and they agreed to a plan that involves North Korea holding talks with South Korea regarding denuclearization, and then the United States. This is "maximum pressure and engagement at the same time," Pence said.
Pence said Moon assured him that North Korea will be made fully aware the country will not receive any economic or diplomatic benefits for merely attending the talks. He also said he doesn't know yet what steps North Korea will need to take to get relief from sanctions. "That's why you have to have talks," Pence told the Post. Catherine Garcia
In a message to "all Koreans at home and abroad," North Korea called for unification without the assistance of other countries, North Korean state media said.
The announcement was made after a meeting of the North Korean government and political parties, held in response to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's New Year's address calling for stronger reunification efforts. Pyongyang will "smash" all challenges against reunification, the statement said, and called joint military drills with "outside forces," like the kind conducted by South Korea and the United States, harmful and a "fundamental obstacle" to peace.
North Korea views 2018 as an important year, as it's the 70th anniversary of the founding of the country and the Winter Olympics are being held in South Korea. Catherine Garcia
North Korea has accepted South Korea's invitation to discuss ways to cooperate on the upcoming Winter Olympics, and agreed to meet at the border village of Panmunjom on Tuesday, South Korea's Unification Ministry announced Friday.
This will be the first formal dialogue between Pyongyang and Seoul in more than two years, and they will also discuss how to improve ties between the countries. On Thursday, the United States and South Korea agreed to postpone their joint military exercises until after the Pyeongchang Olympics in February; North Korea considers the annual military exercises preparation for an invasion.
While some anaylsts see this as the first step in bettering relations, others believe this could be Pyongyang's way of causing friction between South Korea and the United States. Catherine Garcia
On behalf of Kim Jong Un, the chairman of North Korea's Committee for the Peaceful Reunification announced in a radio address Wednesday that Pyongyang will reopen a cross-border communication channel with South Korea.
Ri Son Gwon said North Korea plans on dealing with South Korea in a "sincere and careful" manner by "upholding the will" of Kim, The Associated Press reports. The South Korean Unification Ministry said North Korea is set to reopen the communication channel at the border village of Panmunjom late Wednesday.
On Monday, Kim hinted that he was interested in sending a delegation to next month's Olympic Games in Pyeongchang, and on Tuesday South Korea suggested the countries participate in talks regarding ways to cooperate on the games. Catherine Garcia
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said in a televised New Year's Day address that he is "open to dialogue" with South Korea, Reuters reports. Kim additionally boasted that he has a nuclear button on his desk and could attack the U.S., but said he would only use the weapons if threatened.
The mixed message came after a year of escalating tensions over Pyongyang's nuclear and missile tests. Kim called his country "a peace-loving and responsible nuclear power," and said he would consider sending a delegation to the Winter Olympics in South Korea in February.
A spokesman for South Korea's presidential Blue House said Seoul has "always stated our willingness to talk with North Korea any time and anywhere." Jeva Lange
South Korea confirmed Friday that it is holding a Hong Kong-registered vessel over claims that it violated sanctions in October by transferring oil in international waters to a North Korean ship, the BBC reports. President Trump had alluded to the transfer in a tweet Thursday in which he blasted China for being "caught RED HANDED."
Satellite imagery the US says shows an Oct 19 ship-to-ship transfer, possibly of oil, between two vessels in an effort to evade sanctions on North Korea. President Trump said Beijing had been "caught red-handed," after these satellite images were republished this week. pic.twitter.com/rDd9btPXXN
— Will Ripley (@willripleyCNN) December 29, 2017
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying has denied the nation is violating sanctions, and said if China discovers such an example, it will be dealt with "in accordance with laws and regulations," CNN reports. South Korea says that the Lighthouse Winmore — the Taiwanese-leased, Hong Kong-flagged ship that made the alleged oil transfer — illustrates "one of the main ways in which North Korea uses an illegal network to circumvent" the sanctions. Jeva Lange
The United Nations Security Council voted unanimously to put some of the heaviest sanctions yet on North Korea, including limiting oil exports strictly to their current levels and ordering North Korean workers abroad to return home within two years, The New York Times reports. Friday's 15-0 vote marks a significant step in the process because the United States was joined by Russia and China, which historically have hesitated on escalating sanctions against the regime.
"President Trump has used just about every lever you can use, short of starving the people of North Korea to death, to change their behavior," said White House homeland security adviser, Thomas Bossert, earlier this week. "And so we don't have a lot of room left here to apply pressure to change their behavior."
In fact, many experts believe that no amount of economic pressure will convince North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to abandon the country's nuclear program. Nevertheless, the British ambassador to the U.N., Matthew Rycroft, praised the cooperation between nations Friday, saying that the new policies will "make it even harder for the regime to fund the illegal programs, and at the same time ensure we don't make life harder for the poor people of North Korea." Read more about the sanctions at The New York Times. Jeva Lange
On Thursday, a North Korean soldier raced across the heavily armed demilitarized zone and defected to South Korea, the fourth soldier to do so this year.
The soldier, believed to be 19, chose to cross at a more remote portion of the border between the two Koreas. After the defection, the South Korean military noticed there were several North Korean soldiers coming toward the line separating the countries in the DMZ, and they fired 20 warning shots, a defense official told The Associated Press. The official said they were likely searching for the defector, and they turned around after the shots were fired.
Last month, a North Korean soldier was shot five times as he tried to escape to South Korea, and had to be rescued by the South Korean military. He is still recovering in a South Korean hospital. Catherine Garcia