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Seize the opportunity: Washington must utilise Korean thaw and Pyongyang’s overtures to end nuclear crisis

Signalling further thaw in tensions over North Korea’s nuclear programme, South Korean envoys returning from Pyongyang after two days of talks with North’s supreme leader Kim Jong-un have said that the Stalinist regime is willing to discuss denuclearisation provided its security is guaranteed. They further reported that the North was open to negotiations with the US and could suspend all missile and nuclear tests during this period. The two Koreas also agreed to hold a summit between Kim and South Korean President Moon Jae-in in late April. While the North is yet to corroborate the South’s version of the meeting outcomes, it has nonetheless opened up space for diplomacy.

Coming after the North’s participation in the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics last month, the meeting in Pyongyang represents continuing momentum for dialogue. True, the North’s reported pronouncements are conditional and open-ended. But the very fact that it is willing to put denuclearisation on the table – just months after boasting about possessing nukes and missiles to hit the US mainland – is significant. The situation could also be read as strict UN sanctions placed on the North finally bearing fruit.

In any case, the US would do well to seize this opportunity for dialogue and bring down the temperature in the Korean peninsula. Talks are always preferable to the possibility of a devastating war and the North has demonstrated that it is a rational actor that takes calculated decisions. Plus, greater reconciliation between the two Koreas could also create peace dividends that deter conflict in east Asia as a whole. Kim, Moon and US President Donald Trump stand on the cusp of a historic moment that could change the fate of the Koreas and east Asia by bringing about a lasting peace. They must take the plunge.

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