SEOUL/WASHINGTON (Reuters) - North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said he wants to boost the “warm climate of reconciliation and dialogue” with South Korea after a high-level delegation returned from the Winter Olympics, while his foes stressed the need to intensify pressure to force him to give up his nuclear weapons.
Kim gave instructions for measures aimed at more inter-Korean engagement after his younger sister Kim Yo Jong led a three-day visit to the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, North Korea’s state media reported on Tuesday.
It did not specify what those instructions were.
The United States has appeared to endorse deeper post-Olympics engagement between the two Koreas that could lead to talks between Pyongyang and Washington. But it has also stressed the need to ramp up sanctions to force North Korea to give up development of nuclear missiles capable of hitting the United States.
On Tuesday, the U.S. director of national intelligence, Dan Coats, said North Korea presented “a potentially existential” threat to the United States and said time was running out to act on the threat.
“Decision time is becoming ever closer in terms of how we respond to this,” Coats told a hearing before the Senate Intelligence Committee. “Our goal is a peaceful settlement. We are using maximum pressure on North Korea in various ways.”
CIA Director Mike Pompeo told the same hearing there was “no indication there’s any strategic change” in Kim’s desire to retain a nuclear threat to the United States.
Coats said in an annual threat assessment report that North Korea was likely to continue weapons testing in 2018 and noted that it had said it was considering an atmospheric nuclear test. The report said Pyongyang’s repeated statements that nuclear weapons were the basis for its survival “suggest the regime does not intend to negotiate them away”.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in said earlier on Tuesday that the United States was open to talking with North Korea.
“The United States sees inter-Korean dialogue in a positive light and has expressed its openness for talks with the North,” his spokesman quoted Moon as telling Latvian President Raimonds Vējonis.
That sentiment was repeated by Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who said Moon had agreed it was necessary to keep up maximum pressure on North Korea.
Last year, North Korea conducted dozens of missile launches and its sixth and largest nuclear test in defiance of U.N. resolutions as it pursues its goal of developing a nuclear-armed missile capable of reaching the United States.
Japanese officials were at pains to stress there was no daylight between Japan, the United States and South Korea on their approach to dealing with North Korea.
“The goal is denuclearisation and the process is dialogue for dialogue, action for action, so if North Korea does not show actions, the United States and Japan will not change their policies,” a senior Japanese diplomat told lawmakers.
Pompeo said last month that North Korea could be only “a handful of months” away from being able make a nuclear attack on the United States.
While stressing its preference for a diplomatic solution to the North Korean crisis, the United States has warned that all options on are on the table, including military ones, to prevent this, although talk of preventative military strikes has eased since the Koreas resumed dialogue last month.
A senior South Korean military official stationed at the border between North and South Korea told Reuters North Korea has lowered the volume of its border propaganda broadcasts since the Olympics’ opening ceremony on Feb. 9.
“I still hear it, but it is much less than before,” said the official who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Moon, who was offered a meeting with Kim Jong Un in Pyongyang via his sister, has been pushing for a diplomatic solution to the standoff with North Korea.
Seoul is planning to push ahead with its plans for reunions of family members separated by the 1950-53 Korean War in order to sustain the dialogue prompted by the North Korean delegation’s visit.
On Monday, U.S. President Donald Trump urged Russia to do more in urging North Korea to scrap its nuclear programme, the White House said, aimed at intensifying the pressure campaign on Pyongyang.
Talk of an inter-Korean summit, which would be the first since 2007 if it happened, come after months of tension between Pyongyang, Seoul and Washington.
As with North Korean media over the weekend, the KCNA report again made no mention of the summit offer made to Moon.
Rather, Kim Jong Un gave his gratitude to Seoul for their “sincere efforts” to prioritise the North Korean delegation’s visit, which were “very impressive,” KCNA said.
Moon and his administration hosted several meetings and meals for the delegation during their stay at the presidential Blue House and luxury five-star hotels, while Moon personally accompanied Kim Yo Jong to Olympic events and a concert.
In addition to the high-level delegation, hundreds of North Koreans, including an orchestra and a cheer squad, have visited South Korea for the Olympics.
Reporting by Christine Kim; Additional reporting by Linda Sieg and Tim Kelly in TOKYO, James Pearson in PYEONGCHANG and David Brunnstrom, Doina Chiacu and Patricia Zengerle in WASHINGTON; Editing by Lincoln Feast and Jonathan Oatis