The U.S. White House has made it clear that it can hold dialogue with North Korea at least to convey to Pyongyang the United States’ message that Washington will maintain its “maximum pressure” policy aimed at the North’s denuclearization. It seems that the United States plans to officially pursue the “maximum pressure and engagement at the same time,” which U.S. Vice President Mike Pence mentioned during an interview with The Washington Post on Sunday during his flight back home from South Korea after attending the opening ceremony of the PyeongChang Winter Olympics.
An official at the White House National Security Council said in an e-mail interview with The Dong-A Ilbo that Washington was willing to engage North Korea in order to emphasize its position that the “complete and irreversible denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula is not negotiable.” The official also stressed that Washington would strengthen its “maximum pressure” until the North Korean regime abandons its nuclear program. The response suggests that while Washington will continue the maximum pressure campaign, it would also be possible to hold dialogue with the North to achieve the goal. Asked if there would be any change in Washington’s position on a military option against the North, the official said that both the military and non-military options are on the table, adding that the United States will take all measures necessary to defend itself and its allies and respond to any North Korean provocation.
The U.S. Department of State officially admitted the possibility to expand the dialogue phase. U.S. State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert told a regular news briefing on Monday that Pence had said “maximum pressure and engagement can be done at the same time.” She stressed that Pence had said, “The maximum pressure campaign is going to continue and intensify. But if you want to talk, we’ll talk.”
The New York Times reported that if Pyongyang and Washington agreed to hold talks before the North expresses its will to give up its nuclear and missile development, it should be seen as a sign of a major change in the Trump administration’s approach to the North.
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