North Korea Said to Offer Direct Assurance It Will Discuss Denuclearization

Administration officials said the United States government had been working to lay the groundwork for a meeting between President Trump and the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, but would offer no details about it, such as where it might take place.

WASHINGTON — North Korea has told the United States that its leader, Kim Jong-un, is willing to discuss denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, administration officials said on Sunday, the first direct confirmation that he intends to participate in an extraordinary meeting with President Trump about his nuclear program.

The North delivered its message in secret talks between its representatives and American officials as they prepare for the summit meeting, which is expected to take place next month.

South Korean officials had informed Mr. Trump in March that the North Korean leader wanted to meet with him for nuclear talks — an invitation that the president enthusiastically accepted — but Pyongyang has been officially silent about the meeting.

On Sunday, the administration officials said the United States government had been working to lay the groundwork for the meeting, but would offer no details about it, such as where it might take place.

Talks between Mr. Trump and Mr. Kim would represent the first direct engagement between a sitting American president and a North Korean leader, bringing together two mercurial and headstrong leaders who have lobbed long-distance insults and bellicose threats at each other.

The Wall Street Journal first reported the direct confirmation by the North.

There is still no guarantee that the talks will happen, or that Mr. Kim is prepared to discuss denuclearization of the sort that the United States government envisions, which would entail entirely giving up the very weapons that the North has seen as crucial to its continued existence. It is also unclear what kind of concessions the United States would be willing to make to secure commitments from Pyongyang.

But the direct communication between the two countries about Mr. Kim’s intentions appeared to signal that both sides were working to plant the seeds for negotiations.

The efforts to arrange talks between Mr. Trump and Mr. Kim have posed steep challenges for the administration, whose North Korea policy is centered on the imposition of crippling sanctions, backed by the threat of military action — what the administration calls its “maximum pressure campaign.”

Before the president abruptly agreed to a summit meeting last month — a gesture that followed a sudden shift of his own by Mr. Kim toward talk of peace — the administration had done little planning for how a diplomatic negotiation would unfold, according to people briefed on the process.

The preparations are also taking place as Mr. Trump has lost or opted not to hire seasoned diplomats experienced in dealing with the North. The State Department’s chief North Korea negotiator, Joseph Y. Yun, recently announced his departure from the Foreign Service. And the White House decided against nominating Victor Cha, another experienced negotiator, as ambassador to Seoul.

Word of Mr. Kim’s willingness to talk about denuclearization came the day before John R. Bolton, who has made the legal case for a pre-emptive attack on North Korea, was to officially begin work as Mr. Trump’s new national security adviser.

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