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South Korea thinks ‘breakthrough’ is possible in U.S. talks with North Korea, foreign minister says

South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha says she believes a “breakthrough” on denuclearization is possible in talks between the U.S. and North Korea later this spring.

“I think we’re cautiously optimistic that the talks will happen and that this will be a breakthrough for a peaceful resolution of the North Korean nuclear issue,” she said in an interview airing on Friday with PBS NewsHour anchor Judy Woodruff. (Watch the full interview here.)

“My president has been, from the very beginning, consistent and persistent in his message about North Korea and that message has been North Korea’s missiles, nuclear program, will never be accepted,” Kang said.

South Korea’s national security director announced earlier this month that President Donald Trump had agreed to a meeting with North Korea leader Kim Jong Un sometime before May. It would be the first meeting of a sitting U.S. president and a leader of North Korea.

Kang said economic sanctions implemented by the U.N. Security Council have led to Kim’s willingness to talk. In a phone call Friday, Mr. Trump and South Korean President Moon Jae-in reaffirmed their commitment to maintain “maximum pressure” on North Korea.

Kang said North Korea has so far complied with the two conditions of the talks: a commitment to complete denuclearization and no provocative actions during the dialogue.

But “if there are further provocations,” Kang said, “there will be more sanctions.”

Woodruff also asked Kang about comments Trump reportedly made at a Missouri fundraiser on Wednesday that suggested he would withdraw troops from the U.S. base in Seoul if trade negotiations with South Korea don’t go well.

“We have a very big trade deficit with them, and we protect them,” Trump reportedly said of South Korea, according to audio obtained by the Washington Post. “We have right now 32,000 soldiers on the border between North and South Korea. Let’s see what happens,” he said.

The U.S. trade deficit with South Korea is $17 billion, according to the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative.

“I think the strength of the Korea-U.S. alliance is solid enough to not take comments related to trade as indicating something about the troop presence itself,” Kang said, adding that she expected the results of trade negotiations “to be mutually beneficial.”

READ MORE: What do experts think of Trump’s plan to meet with Kim Jong Un?

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