SEOUL, March 4 (Reuters) - South Korea will dispatch a delegation led by senior security officials for a two-day visit to North Korea starting Monday, the presidential Blue House announced Sunday, as U.S. President Donald Trump hinted that he is ready to talk to Pyongyang.
For its part, North Korea said it was not begging to talk with Washington and denounced upcoming U.S.-South Korean joint-military exercises, warning that it would take counter measures against the United States if they went ahead.
The drills will take place next month, a South Korean presidential security adviser said according to the Yonhap news agency. They had been delayed until after the Winter Olympics and Paralympic games in South Korea.
South Korea's presidential Blue House said in a statement that National Security Office (NSO) head Chung Eui-yong and National Intelligence Service (NIS) chief Suh Hoon, a veteran of past negotiations with the North, will be among the 10-member South Korean delegation visiting Pyongyang.
The visit was part of an effort to lower tensions on the Korean peninsula as well as possibly arrange talks between North Korea and the United States, it said.
Key moments in 2017 between US and North Korea
Key moments in 2017 between US and North Korea
NEW YEARS DAY MISSILE LAUNCH
On January 1, 2017, North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un warned that an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) was in the 'final stages' of development.
During a visit to North Korea's border on March 17, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was unwittingly photographed by a North Korean soldier, who can be seen peering into the room on the right side of the image.
President Trump called North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un 'a pretty smart cookie' in an interview that went viral on April 30.
'At a very young age, he was able to assume power. A lot of people, I'm sure, tried to take that power away, whether it was his uncle or anybody else. And he was able to do it. So obviously, he's a pretty smart cookie,' Trump told CBS News.
The president also said he'd be 'honored' to meet with the North Korean leader.
KIM JONG UN'S LETTER TO CONGRESS
In early May, North Korea said it would continue its nuclear weapons tests and boost force 'to the maximum' in a stark warning to the U.S.
U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley said North Korea's actions were 'quickly closing off the possibility of a diplomatic solution' and that the United States was prepared to use force 'if we must.'
'PILE OF ASH'
In a bold statement, North Korea threatened to turn the U.S. into a 'pile of ash' on July 12.
US THREATENED WITH 'MERCILESS BLOW'
On July 27, a North Korean spokesperson said, 'Should the U.S. dare to show even the slightest sign of attempt to remove our supreme leadership, we will strike a merciless blow at the heart of the U.S. with our powerful nuclear hammer, honed and hardened over time.'
On December 20, it was reported that North Korea is testing whether its ICBM weapons are capable of carrying anthrax.
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After the visit to North Korea the envoys will travel to the United States to brief officials, and Seoul said it would also coordinate closely with officials in Japan and China.
During a joke-filled monolog at a dinner with journalists in Washington on Saturday, Trump suggested that the United States will be meeting with North Korea but has told Pyongyang it must first "denuke."
"We will be meeting and we'll see if anything positive happens," he added.
It was unclear if Trump was joking or if formal U.S.-North Korea talks were imminent.
Speaking on Sunday in Beijing ahead of the opening of China's parliament, Vice Foreign Minister Zhang Yesui said China hoped the United States and North Korea could begin dialog too.
"War and chaos on the peninsula in not in the interests of any side," Zhang said.
Last month, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence was scheduled to meet with North Korean officials, including leader Kim Jong Un’s sister, while in South Korea for the Winter Olympics but the North Koreans canceled at the last minute, U.S. officials said in February.
North Korea reiterated on Saturday that it was willing to talk to the United States but said it would never sit with any precondition.
A North Korean foreign ministry spokesman was quoted by KCNA as saying "we will neither beg for dialog nor evade the military option claimed by the U.S."
A commentary published by North Korea's official KCNA news agency warned that North Korea would "counter the U.S." if joint military drills go forward.
The Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang last month gave a boost to recent engagement between the two Koreas after more than a year of sharply rising tensions over the North's missile program and its sixth and largest nuclear test in defiance of United Nations sanctions.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in hopes to capitalize on that thaw in relations by arranging talks over North Korea's nuclear weapons and ballistic missile program.
During a phone call on Thursday, Moon told Trump of his plan to send a special envoy to North Korea in response to an invitation from leader Kim Jong Un.
In sending an envoy to Pyongyang, Moon said he would be seeking to reciprocate Kim Jong Un's decision to send a senior delegation, including his sister, Kim Yo Jong, to the Olympics, marking the first visit by a member of the North's ruling bloodline since the 1950-53 Korean War.
The White House has said any talks with North Korea must lead to an end of its nuclear program, and on Feb. 23, the United States said it was imposing its largest package of sanctions to pressure North Korea to give up its nuclear and missile programs.
At the time, Trump also warned of a "phase two" that could be "very, very unfortunate for the world" if the steps did not work. (Additional reporting by Yuna Park, and Ben Blanchard in BEIJING; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)