WASHINGTON — U.S. officials have low expectations regarding Tuesday’s planned meeting between North and South Korean officials — the first official, face-to-face talks between the Koreas in two years.
“The discussion that’s going to go on here shortly … is about the Olympics only,” Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told Pentagon reporters. “That is the sum total of subjects that are going to be discussed.”
Mattis was firm in saying the official administration line remains that there has been no turnaround in the Trump administration’s North Korea policy and that the inter-Korean talks are unlikely to lead to a breakthrough, beyond the North’s participation in the February winter Olympics to be held in South Korea.
“I will tell you, there is not a one-degree of difference on where we stand vis-a-vis the long-term defense of ROK (South Korea), our ally, about the denuclearization,” Mattis said during an informal availability in the press pen. “There’s nothing where they can drive a wedge at all.”
However, many feel the recent spurt in conciliatory words and outreach between the two Koreas can lead the talks to could continue positive momentum toward decreased tensions on the Korean Peninsula beyond participation in the Olympics.
Among the recent gestures: A hotline between the two sides. dormant for about two years, crackled to life again last week. The annual war games conducted by the U.S. and South Korea set for February have been delayed. Positive words of communication are flowing from Seoul toward the North.
South Korean officials said they will seek to raise the issue of war-torn families and ways to ease military tensions during the meeting.
Hovering over the talks is the very real threat of North Korean weapons testing — an item pointedly not on the Tuesday discussion agenda.
The person-to-person talks scheduled for tomorrow — one day after North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s birthday — are to be at the Peace House, located on the South Korean side of the so-called truce village of Panmunjom, located in the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) between the two nations.
President Donald Trump, answering questions from reporters at the presidential retreat at Camp David over the weekend, expressed a willingness to talk to Kim but not without preconditions.
“Absolutely, I would do that,” Trump said. “I have no problem with that at all’.”
However, the president said he would alter his strong rhetoric. “We have a very firm stance,” Trump told reporters. “He knows I’m not messing around. I’m not messing around — not even a little bit, not even 1 percent.”