South Korea warned Wednesday against expecting North Korea to agree to get rid of its nuclear weapons quickly in the planned peace summit with President Donald Trump.
"There will be many challenges that need to be overcome" before North Korea's Kim Jong-un would commit to the U.S. demand for "complete, verifiable and irreversible" denuclearization, said Cho Myoung-gyon, Seoul's unification minister.
"I can say that we have just entered the gate of denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula," said Cho, a top adviser to President Moon Jae-in who has been engaged with North Korean officials in talks at Panmunjom truce village in the Demilitarized Zone.
Cho made the remarks in an address to a visiting European delegation, according to South Korea's Yonhap news agency.
"I can say that the differences in stances between North Korea and the U.S. remain quite significant," Cho said. "It will not be easy to narrow the gap and find common ground but I think it would not be impossible."
As unification minister, Cho has also been involved in talks with the North on the possibility of replacing the armistice that ended the Korean War in 1953 with a peace treaty.
A recent CIA assessment appeared to back up Cho in stating that it was highly unlikely the North would agree to complete denuclearization anytime soon, NBC News reported.
In addition, a top nuclear arms expert predicted that North Korea's extensive nuclear weapons systems and facilities could take as long as 15 years to dismantle.
The analysis by Siegfried Hecker, a former director of the government's Los Alamos laboratory in New Mexico who has toured the North's nuclear facilities four times, was first reported by The New York Times.
The White House is continuing to press ahead on three fronts with preparations for the proposed summit with Kim in Singapore on June 12.
North Korea's Kim Yong-chol, the top intelligence adviser to Kim Jong-un, was headed to the U.S. on Wednesday for meetings in New York with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
In Panmunjom, Sung Kim, the former U.S. ambassador to South Korea, was meeting with North Korean officials on denuclearization terms.
In Singapore, White House Deputy Chief of Staff Joe Hagin was meeting with a North Korean team to work out the logistics of the summit.
The on-again, off-again nature of the talks has increased pressure on the diplomats. Last week, Trump said he was canceling the summit in response to threats from the North, but planning for the summit resumed after conciliatory gestures from the North following a letter from Trump.
In a Tweet on Tuesday, Trump wrote, "We have put a great team together for our talks with North Korea. Meetings are currently taking place concerning Summit, and more. Kim Yong Chol, the Vice Chairman of North Korea, heading now to New York. Solid response to my letter, thank you!"
-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.