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North seeks "complete denuclearisation", says Moon, as US vows continued pressure

[SEOUL] North Korea has expressed its commitment to "complete denuclearisation" of the Korean peninsula and is not seeking conditions, South Korean President Moon Jae-in said on Thursday, as the United States vowed to maintain "maximum pressure" on Pyongyang.

Mr Moon said big-picture agreements about denuclearisation, establishing a peace regime and normalisation of relations between the two Koreas and the United States should not be difficult to reach through summits between the North and South, and between the North and the United States.

"I don't think denuclearisation has different meanings for South and North Korea. The North is expressing a will for a complete denuclearisation," Mr Moon said during a lunch with chief executives of Korean media companies.

"They have not attached any conditions that the US cannot accept, such as the withdrawal of American troops from South Korea. All they are talking about is the end of hostile policies against North Korea, followed by a guarantee of security." North Korea has defended its nuclear and missile programmes, which it pursues in defiance of UN Security Council resolutions, as a necessary deterrent against perceived US hostility. The United States stations 28,500 troops in South Korea, a legacy of the 1950-53 Korean War.

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North Korea has said over the years that it could consider giving up its nuclear arsenal if the United States removed its troops from South Korea and withdrew its so-called nuclear umbrella of deterrence from South Korea and Japan.

South Korea announced on Wednesday that it is considering how to change a decades-old armistice with North Korea into a peace agreement as it prepares for the North-South summit this month.

Reclusive North Korea and the rich, democratic South are technically still at war because the 1950-53 conflict ended in a truce, not a peace treaty.

Mr Moon said he saw the possibility of a peace agreement, or even international aid for the North's economy, if it denuclearises.

But he also said the inter-Korean summit had "a lot of constraints", in that the two Koreas could not make progress separate from the North Korea-United States summit, and could not reach an agreement that transcends international sanctions.

"So first, the South-North Korean summit must make a good beginning, and the dialogue between the two Koreas likely must continue after we see the results of the North Korea-United States summit," Mr Moon said.

US CIA Director Mike Pompeo visited North Korea last week and met leader Kim Jong Un with whom he formed a "good relationship", US President Donald Trump said on Wednesday, ahead of a summit planned for May or June.

Mr Trump said on Wednesday he hoped the summit would be successful, but warned he would call it off if he did not think it would produce results.

Mr Trump told a joint news conference with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe that his campaign of "maximum pressure" on North Korea would continue until Pyongyang gave up its nuclear weapons.

REUTERS