North Korea says it’s willing to denuclearize. The ball is now in Trump’s court.

Despite U.S. tough talk, North and South Korea make further progress in easing tensions over Pyongyang's weapons program.

In this handout image provided by the South Korean Presidential Blue House, Chung Eui-Yong (R), head of the presidential National Security Office shakes hands with North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un (L) during their meeting on March 5, 2018 in Pyongyang, North Korea. CREDIT: South Korean Presidential Blue House/Getty Images.
In this handout image provided by the South Korean Presidential Blue House, Chung Eui-Yong (R), head of the presidential National Security Office shakes hands with North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un (L) during their meeting on March 5, 2018 in Pyongyang, North Korea. CREDIT: South Korean Presidential Blue House/Getty Images.

North and South Korea came out of a meeting on Tuesday with a result President Donald Trump said would never happen: North Korea said it was willing to negotiate its ballistic and nuclear weapons programs with the United States, and agreed to suspend nuclear tests for the duration of those talks.

Technically at war, the Koreas have managed to prolong the detente they reached in the lead-up to the Winter Olympics in South Korea, and continue to build upon it: The two will hold their first joint summit in 11 years next month.

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“North Korea made clear its willingness to denuclearize the Korean peninsula and the fact there is no reason for it to have a nuclear program if military threats against the North are resolved and its regime is secure,” Chung Eui-yong, head of the Blue House’s National Security Office, told a media briefing.

“The North also said it can have frank talks with the United States on denuclearisation and the normalization of ties between North Korea and the United States,” he added.

Implied in Chung’s relaying of what unfolded in the meeting, is that North Korea is willing to talk about its nuclear program if the United States is willing to discuss how to reduce tensions.

The United States refused to extend a diplomatic hand to North Korea during the games. A meeting was scheduled between the two sides, both of whom had delegations present at the PyongChang games, but those talks were canceled by North Korea after Vice President Mike Pence kicked off his trip to Asia with the promise to “tell the truth about North Korea at every stop.”

Trump had said, time and time again, that talking to North Korea is “pointless.” Instead, he has pursued a path of sanctions, name-calling, and threats.

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The sanctions have yet to produce the kind of tangible results that brought Iran to the negotiating table for the nuclear deal, which Trump is now trying to undo. Indeed, North Korea has been violating those sanctions with the help of China and Russia, both permanent members of the U.N. Security Council. A study in December found that 49 countries were violating sanctions against North Korea.

Trump fired off two tweets in Tuesday morning in response to the news:

And then:

North Korea sees the ongoing U.S.-South Korea joint military exercises, as well as U.S. military presence in South Korea — nearly 29,000 troops — as posing an existential threat. More hawkish officials, like former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton, expressed doubt that North Korea is willing to ease away from its nuclear program.

Bolton, who mentioned CIA Director Mike Pompeo’s claim that North Korea could strike the U.S. within “a handful of months” (a claim he’s been making for a year) —  said on Fox News that North Korea is only “buying time.”

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But the United States could also use this period to buy some time, because as Daryl Kimball, Executive Director of the Arms Control Association told ThinkProgress, Pyongyang is three or four more long-range ballistic missile flight tests away from having the operational capability to hit the United States.

“So it should be an overriding priority to stop those tests,” said Kimball, adding that we should be “optimistic but cautious” about Tuesday’s news.

“This is a significant diplomatic breakthrough in a couple of regards. North Korea says it will suspend nuclear testing and just as importantly, ballistic testing, if they can engage in talks with the United States. The North and South are opening up a hotline between the two leaders to improve communications and reduce the risk of miscalculation,” said Kimball.

Ideally, President Trump would indicate that he’s willing to “discuss issues with common concern” with North Korea, and maybe reconsider the U.S. – South Korea military exercise planned for April.

North Korea sees these exercises as threatening, and Kimball said they could be modified so they don’t look like a “prelude to an invasion.”

But unless Bolton is named national security adviser in the next couple of weeks, what he has to say is not of much import to the North Koreans, Kimball added. “They care about what Donald Trump says, Secretary of Defense [James] Mattis says, what Secretary of State [Rex] Tillerson says and what they do,” he said.

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If this opportunity is not seized upon by this administration, Kimball said the international community and North Korea will ask, “Why can’t Donald Trump take ‘yes’ for an answer?”