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North Korea-U.S. talks: Why make the offer now, what does North Korea want in return?

Friday - 09/03/2018 09:28
South Korea's National Security Adviser Chung Eui-yong said President Donald Trump and North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un will meet by May this year. (March 8) AP

President Trump will meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un by May for high-level talks toward a nuclear-free Korean peninsula, South Korean national security adviser Chung Eui-yong said outside the White House on Thursday. 

It would be the first face-to-face meeting in history between a U.S. president and a North Korean leader. 

The announcement comes days after North Korea said it was open to talks and offered to suspend nuclear missile and weapons tests during them.

Here are answers to the key questions about the latest development.

Q. Is North Korea serious about giving up its nuclear arsenal?

A. Probably not, but if it consents to talks and suspends nuclear tests as promised, it still could result in progress that further defuses tensions.

“It’s not an unconditional commitment to get rid of its nuclear program,” said Robert Einhorn, an arms control analyst at the Brookings Institution. “It’s not clear they’re committing to anything at this point.”

Still, analysts say that holding talks can sometimes yield unanticipated results. “It is a big window of opportunity,” said Jenny Town, assistant director of the U.S.-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.

More: Trump and Kim Jong Un: Here are the worst insults they've slung at each other

More: 'The world is watching': North Korea reportedly would consider abandoning nukes program

Related: War vs. diplomacy: Did the Olympics help resolve the North Korea nuclear standoff? Sort of.

Q. Should the United States trust North Korea?

A. There are plenty of reasons to be skeptical. “We shouldn’t be under any illusion that they are going to give up nuclear weapons easily,” Town said.

Previous efforts to contain North Korea's nuclear arsenal, including an agreement in 1994, ended in failure amid strong evidence that North Korea was moving ahead with an enrichment program despite the deal with the United States.

North Korea has also regularly objected to visits from weapons inspectors during previous discussions of disarmament, said Balazs Szalontai, an associate professor at Korea University.

More recently, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has raced ahead with an expansion of his nuclear arms program, testing a record number of ballistic missiles. The missiles are now capable of reaching U.S. cities.

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