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South Korea's president said today that many "critical moments" still lie ahead to end the nuclear crisis despite North Korea's recent outreach to Seoul and Washington.
Moon Jae-in spoke before two senior Seoul officials headed to the United States later today to brief officials about the outcome of their recent visit to North Korea.
The Seoul officials said North Korea offered talks with the United States over normalizing ties and denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. Seoul said the North also agreed to suspend nuclear and missile tests during such future talks.
Some experts question how sincere North Korea is about its reported offers, citing what they call its track record of using past disarmament talks to wrest aid and concessions while covertly continuing its bomb program.
According to the South Korean officials, North Korea said it has no reason to possess nuclear weapons as long as military threats against the country are removed and its security is guaranteed.
That's the same positon North Korea has long maintained to justify its nuclear program or call for the withdrawal of 28,500 U.S. troops and a halt to annual U.S.-South Korean military drills as a condition for scrapping its nuclear program. The North sees the allies' drills as an invasion rehearsal.
"We've overcome one critical moment. But there are many critical moments that we still have to go through before reaching the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and a permanent peace," Moon said in a meeting with church leaders. Moon still described the outcome of his envoys' North Korea trip "a big step toward denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula" that was possible with "a strong support" by the US government.
It's unclear whether the United States would accept the North's reported offer for talks. President Donald Trump expressed both hope and skepticism, calling it "possible progress" that also "may be false hope."
Seoul and Washington plan to kick off their delayed springtime drills next month, and how sensitively the North would react would affect the current reconciliation mood flared after the North's participation in last month's Winter Olympics held in the South.
The North responded to past joint drills by the allies with its own weapons and fiery rhetoric.
Moon and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un are to meet at a border village in late April, when the South Korea-U.S. drills would likely be still under way. If realized, the Moon-Kim meeting would mark the rivals' third-ever summit talks since their 1945 division, according to Moon's office.