North Korea has "enough" willingness to hold talks with the U.S., a former intelligence chief from the rogue country believed to be the mastermind behind a deadly attack on South Korea told the country's president on Sunday.
The Blue House, South Korea's presidential office, reported Sunday the news of the meeting between South Korean President Moon Jae-in and Kim Yong Chol, a senior official of the North's ruling Worker's Party, during the closing ceremony of the Winter Olympics, according to Yonhap News Agency.
"President Moon pointed out that U.S.-North Korea dialogue must be held at an early date even for an improvement in the South-North Korea relationship and the fundamental resolution of Korean Peninsula issues," spokesman Kim Eui-kyeom said of the meeting.
The two met for an hour in Pyeongchang, the host city of the 2018 Winter Olympics, according to Yonhap.
"The North Korean delegation too agreed that North Korea-U.S. relations must develop along with the South-North Korea relationship while noting [the North] has enough intention to hold North Korea-U.S. dialogue," the spokesman added.
The United States and North Korea, which have no diplomatic relations and are technically in a state of war after an armistice in 1953, have been at odds for decades.
In recent months the war of words between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and President Trump has escalated as the North tests nuclear missiles and Washington pushes the Hermit Kingdom to disarm.
The White House said in a statement on Sunday that "denuclearization must be the result of any dialogue with North Korea."
"We will see if Pyongyang’s message today, that it is willing to hold talks, represents the first steps along the path to denuclearization. In the meantime, the United States and the world must continue to make clear that North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs are a dead end," the statement read.
An official from the State Department told Fox news on Sunday, "We are in close contact with the Republic of Korea about our unified response to North Korea. As President Moon stated, 'the improvement of relations between North and South Korea cannot advance separately from resolving North Korea's nuclear program.'"
President Trump's daughter, Ivanka Trump, sat at the closing ceremony in the same box with the controversial former general. They did not appear to interact when South Korean President Moon Jae-in shook hands with dignitaries at the beginning of the ceremony. Trump smiled during the ceremony, but not at the North Korean ex-spy chief. Right behind Moon sat General Brooks, the head of U.S. forces in South Korea.
A source close to President Moon told Fox News on Sunday, "We had lessons to learn from the Opening Ceremony. (Tonight's ceremony) will be a little different."
Kim Jong Un's sister, Kim Yo Jong, attended the opening ceremony in a historic first — no member of the ruling Kim family had ever traveled to the South before. She invited President Moon Jae-in to a summit with her brother in Pyongyang. The delegation to the closing ceremony was expected to follow up on that invitation while in South Korea.
The delegation's arrival was met by protesters calling for Kim's arrest for his alleged role in the 2010 attacks — the sinking of the warship Cheonan that killed 46 South Korean sailors and an artillery strike on a South Korean island that killed four people.
During Kim’s time in the intelligence agency, which is called the Reconnaissance General Bureau, North Korea was suspected of carrying out the 2014 cyberattack on Sony Pictures Entertainment. The department is tasked with carrying out cyberwarfare and intelligence operations against other countries.
Outside the Olympic Stadium, just before the ceremony, more than 200 anti-Pyongyang protesters waved South Korean and U.S. flags, banged drums and held signs reading "Killer Kim Yong Chol go to hell." They denounced the South Korean government's decision to allow the visit, according to the Associated Press.
"How can a murderer who killed 46 sailors on the Cheonan warship be invited, protected and defended? This is the state of what the Republic of Korea has become," one protester shouted into a mic, referring to South Korea's formal name.
The protesters also hung a sign that read: "We are against Pyongyang Olympics: fallen into the propaganda of the terrorist Kim Jong Un's brutal regime."
Two weeks ago during the opening ceremony to the games, Kim Yo Jong sat in the same VIP box with Moon and Vice President Pence, creating some awkward moments.
Pence stood to cheer the entrance of the U.S. team, but he remained seated when the athletes from North and South Korea marched together behind a "unification" flag, leaving Moon to instinctively turn around and shake Kim's sister's hand.
Pence's office claimed afterward that the North had pulled out of a planned meeting at the last minute.
The North's state-run news agency ran a story Sunday quoting a "spokesman for the Korea Asia-Pacific Peace Committee" as saying that Pence insulted Kim's sister with his hard-line rhetoric after returning to the U.S. and "we will never have face-to-face talks with them even after 100 years or 200 years."
Fox News’ Greg Palkot, Constance McDonough, Katherine Lam and The Associated Press contributed to this report.