President Moon Jae-in of South Korea credited U.S. President Donald Trump on Wednesday for helping to spark the first inter-Korean talks in more than two years.
The talks were held on Tuesday on the South Korean side of the demilitarised zone, which has divided the two Koreas since 1953, after a prolonged period of tension on the Korean peninsula over the North’s missile and nuclear programmes.
North Korea ramped up its missile launches in 2017 and also conducted its sixth and most powerful nuclear test, resulting in some of the strongest international sanctions yet.
The latest sanctions sought to drastically cut the North’s access to refined petroleum imports and earnings from workers abroad.
Pyongyang called the steps an “act of war”.
Seoul and Pyongyang agreed at Tuesday’s talks, the first since December 2015, to resolve all problems between them through dialogue and also to revive military consultations so that accidental conflict could be averted.
Moon told reporters: “I think President Trump deserves big credit for bringing about the inter-Korean talks, I want to show my gratitude.
“It could be a resulting work of the U.S.-led sanctions and pressure.”
Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un exchanged threats and insults over the past year, raising fears of a new war on the peninsula.
South Korea and the U.S. are technically still at war with the North after the 1950 to 1953 Korean conflict ended with a truce, not a peace treaty.
Washington had raised concerns that the overtures by North Korea could drive a wedge between it and Seoul, but Moon said his government did not differ with the U.S. over how to respond to the threats posed by Pyongyang.
“This initial round of talks is for the improvement of relations between North and South Korea. Our task going forward is to draw North Korea to talks aimed at the denuclearisation of the North,” Moon said.
“(It‘s) our basic stance that will never be given up.”
Moon said he was open to meeting North Korea’s leader at any time to improve bilateral ties, and if the conditions were right and “certain achievements are guaranteed”.
“The purpose of it shouldn’t be talks for the sake of talks,” he said.
However, Pyongyang said it would not discuss its nuclear weapons with Seoul because they were only aimed at the United States, not its “brethren” in South Korea, nor Russia or China, showing that a diplomatic breakthrough remained far off.
North Korea’s Rodong Sinmun newspaper said all problems would be resolved through efforts by the Korean people alone.
“If the North and South abandon external forces and cooperate together, we will be able to fully solve all problems to match our people’s needs and our joint prosperity,” it said.
Washington still welcomed Tuesday’s talks as a first step toward solving the North Korean nuclear crisis.
The U.S. State Department said it would be interested in joining future talks, with the aim of denuclearizing the North.
The U.S., which still has 28,500 troops stationed in South Korea, initially responded coolly to the idea of inter-Korean meetings.
Trump later called them “a good thing” and said he would be willing to speak to Kim.
The U.S. and Canada are set to host a conference of about 20 foreign ministers on Jan. 16 in Vancouver to discuss North Korea, without the participation of China, Pyongyang’s sole major ally and biggest trade partner.
China would not attend the meeting and is resolutely opposed to it, said foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang.
“It will only create divisions within the international community and harm joint efforts to appropriately resolve the Korean peninsula nuclear issue,” he told a regular briefing on Wednesday.