WASHINGTON — North Korea’s expressed willingness to halt its missile tests to open talks about disarmament with the United States was met with skeptical optimism by President Trump, members of Congress and experts.

Compared to the recent heated rhetoric, threats and insults traded by Trump and Kim Jong Un, the new tone coming out of Pyongyang after bilateral talks with South Korean counterparts offers “a glimmer of hope” to begin talks with the U.S., said Frank Aum, senior expert on North Korea at the U.S. Institute of Peace and former Pentagon senior adviser.

But any permanent and peaceful end to the nuclear standoff remains far off.

“Along the road to the ultimate goal of denuclearization, there are so many pitfalls and traps that can cause problems and cause the process to unravel along the way,” Aum said.

President Trump welcomed the change in tone, but reiterated that he is still ready to “go either way” when it comes to his response.

“They seem to be acting positively,” Trump said yesterday. “We’ll see.”

“Maybe this is a breakthrough,” said Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, testifying on Capitol Hill yesterday. “I seriously doubt it, but like I said, hope springs eternal.”

White House officials tamped down expectations.

“It’s a good idea for everybody to keep some perspective,” a senior White House official said yesterday. “Take a deep breath. Keep in mind that we have a long, 27 years of history talking to North Korea. And we’ve also had a 27-year history of them breaking every agreement they have ever made with the U.S. and the international community.”

Pyongyang’s reversal of its previous refusal to negotiate over its nuclear program may be an effort to get relief from economic sanctions that had crippled its economy, officials said. It could also simply be an effort to buy time while the Kim regime figures out how to protect the nuclear advances it has made and develop more nuclear-capable weapons in the future.

Bay State U.S. Sen. Edward Markey, who has called for direct talks with Pyongyang, said the U.S. should proceed cautiously while keeping up pressure through sanctions and other means.

“We must expect North Korea to find ways to circumvent any deal,” the Malden Democrat said, “so we need to maintain pressure, including by cutting off North Korea’s access to crude oil and remaining sources of revenue.”


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