South Korea is dispatching a delegation led by senior security officials for a two-day visit to North Korea, the presidential Blue House announced, as US President Donald Trump hinted that he is ready to talk to Pyongyang.

Key points

  • South Korean delegation to arrive in Pyongyang on Monday
  • In joke-filled dinner, Donald Trump suggests meeting North Korea
  • North Korea says open to talks, but condemns military drills and preconditions

For its part, North Korea said it was not begging to talk with Washington and denounced upcoming US-South Korean joint-military exercises, warning that it would take counter measures against the United States if they went ahead.

The drills would take place next month, a South Korean presidential security adviser said according to the Yonhap news agency.

They had been delayed until after the Winter Olympics and Paralympic games in South Korea.

The Blue House said in a statement that National Security Office (NSO) head Chung Eui-yong and National Intelligence Service (NIS) chief Suh Hoon — a veteran of past negotiations with the North — would be among the 10-member South Korean delegation visiting Pyongyang.

The visit was part of an effort to lower tensions on the Korean peninsula as well as to possibly arrange talks between North Korea and the United States, it said.

After the visit to North Korea the envoys will travel to the United States to brief officials, and Seoul said it would also coordinate closely with officials in Japan and China.

During a joke-filled monologue at a dinner with journalists in Washington on Saturday (local time), Mr Trump suggested that the United States would be meeting with North Korea but has told Pyongyang it must first “denuke.”

“We will be meeting and we’ll see if anything positive happens,” he added.

It was unclear if Mr Trump was joking or if formal US-North Korea talks were imminent.

Speaking on Sunday in Beijing ahead of the opening of China’s parliament, Vice-Foreign Minister Zhang Yesui said China hoped the United States and North Korea could begin dialogue too.

“War and chaos on the peninsula is not in the interests of any side,” Mr Zhang said.

Last month, US Vice-President Mike Pence was scheduled to meet with North Korean officials, including leader Kim Jong-un’s sister, while in South Korea for the Winter Olympics but the North Koreans cancelled at the last minute, US officials said in February.

North Korea rejects conditional talks, drills

North Korea reiterated on Saturday that it was willing to talk to the United States but said it would never sit with any precondition.

“We will neither beg for dialogue nor evade the military option claimed by the US,” a North Korean foreign ministry spokesman told the KCNA.

A commentary published by North Korea’s official KCNA news agency warned that North Korea would “counter the US” if joint military drills go forward.

The Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang last month gave a boost to recent engagement between the two Koreas after more than a year of sharply rising tensions over the North’s missile program and its sixth and largest nuclear test in defiance of United Nations sanctions.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in hopes to capitalise on that thaw in relations by arranging talks over North Korea’s nuclear weapons and ballistic missile program.

During a phone call on Thursday, Mr Moon told Mr Trump of his plan to send a special envoy to North Korea in response to an invitation from Mr Kim.

In sending an envoy to Pyongyang, Mr Moon said he would be seeking to reciprocate Mr Kim’s decision to send a senior delegation, including his sister, Kim Yo-jong, to the Olympics,marking the first visit by a member of the North’s ruling bloodline since the 1950-53 Korean War.

The White House has said any talks with North Korea must lead to an end of its nuclear program and on February 23, the United States said it was imposing its largest package of sanctions on North Korea.

At the time, Mr Trump also warned of a “phase two” that could be “very, very unfortunate for the world” if the steps did not work.