Sign up for our daily briefing

Make your busy days simpler with the Axios AM and PM newsletters. Catch up on what's new and why it matters in just 5 minutes.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Catch up on the day's biggest business stories

Subscribe to the Axios Closer newsletter for insights into the day’s business news and trends and why they matter.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Sign up for Axios Pro Rata

Dive into the world of dealmakers across VC, PE and M&A with Axios Pro Rata. Delivered daily to your inbox by Dan Primack and Kia Kokalitcheva.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Sports news worthy of your time

Binge on the stats and stories that drive the sports world with the Axios Sports newsletter. Sign up for free.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Tech news worthy of your time

Get our smart take on technology from the Valley and D.C. with Axios Login. Sign up for free.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Get the inside stories

Get an insider's guide to the new White House with Axios Sneak Peek. Sign up for free.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Catch up on coronavirus stories and special reports, curated by Mike Allen everyday

Catch up on coronavirus stories and special reports, curated by Mike Allen everyday

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Denver news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Denver

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Des Moines news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with the Axios Des Moines newsletter.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Twin Cities news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Twin Cities

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Tampa Bay news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with the Axios Tampa Bay newsletter.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Charlotte news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Charlotte

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Nashville news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with the Axios Nashville newsletter.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Columbus news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with the Axios Columbus newsletter.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Dallas news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with the Axios Dallas newsletter.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Austin news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with the Axios Austin newsletter.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Atlanta news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with the Axios Atlanta newsletter.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Philadelphia news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with the Axios Philadelphia newsletter.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Chicago news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with the Axios Chicago newsletter.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Sign up for Axios NW Arkansas

Stay up-to-date on the most important and interesting stories affecting NW Arkansas, authored by local reporters

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top DC news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with the Axios DC newsletter.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Biegun. Photo: Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images

Steve Biegun, the Trump administration's North Korea negotiator, told reporters in an off the record briefing Sunday that the administration wanted a "complete freeze" of North Korea's weapons of mass destruction program while they are negotiating with the U.S.

Between the lines: Biegun's off the record remarks, made aboard Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's plane during the return trip to Washington from Korea, signaled he's willing to be more flexible with North Korea than the hardliners in the Trump administration. Biegun said the administration isn't ready to lift the sanctions against North Korea if it freezes its weapons program, but that it could give Kim other concessions, such as humanitarian relief and improved diplomatic ties.

  • Biegun insisted, however, that the administration hasn't abandoned its goal of "complete denuclearization."

"What we are looking for is a complete freeze of WMD programs," Biegun told reporters as he was returning to Washington on Sunday from the Korean Peninsula, according to notes from two sources familiar with his remarks. "Stop making things." (Axios was not on the plane and therefore did not enter into any off the record agreement with the administration. The quotes in this story are from notes taken as Biegun spoke.)

  • Biegun went on to say that the administration wanted "a freeze and an idea of an end state, and then within that we have a discussion of a roadmap" towards North Korea giving up their nuclear weapons.
  • Biegun signaled several times in the off the record conversation that he was open to some give and take along the way to that goal, according to one of the sources.
  • A State Department spokesperson declined to comment to Axios.

The backstory: The word “freeze” has become an explosive concept inside the Trump administration over the past 24 hours. The New York Times caused a stir inside the administration with a report that an idea had been taking shape among Trump officials that they might abandon their goal of demanding that North Korea give up its nuclear program.

  • "The concept would amount to a nuclear freeze, one that essentially enshrines the status quo, and tacitly accepts the North as a nuclear power, something administration officials have often said they would never stand for," the Times reported.
  • Biegun told the NYT that no plan along these lines was being developed.
  • And National Security Adviser John Bolton tweeted that neither he nor his staff had heard of such an idea and that the story was a "reprehensible attempt by someone to box in the President."

While all senior officials in the Trump administration say they agree on the ultimate goal of "complete denuclearization" of the Korean Peninsula, opinions differ within the administration on the best way of reaching that goal.

When President Trump abandoned his last formal talks with Kim Jong-un, in Hanoi in February, he said he wanted a "big deal." Trump said that by "big deal" he meant that North Korea would have to give up all their nuclear weapons before the U.S. would relieve sanctions.

  • Kim disappointed Trump at their Hanoi summit, offering only to dismantle the Yongbyon reactor complex, but no other secret facilities, in exchange for sanctions relief, the president said.
  • Bolton, a long-time hawk on North Korea who was not involved in the recent talks, has firmly opposed making any concessions to North Korea before they give up all of their nuclear weapons.

Behind the scenes: Biegun said in the off the record conversation that "in the abstract we have no interest in sanctions relief before denuclearization," according to one of the sources familiar with the conversation.

  • But Biegun also signaled that the U.S. negotiating team was open to being flexible with the North Koreans in other ways. There are "things we can do in the meantime" to make concessions towards Kim, such as "humanitarian aid, expanded people-to-people talks, presence in each other's capitals."
  • "Let's say they give us 20 nuclear weapons," Biegun speculated, according to source notes. "What can we get? I’m confident that I'd go to the Secretary and he'd go to the President and he would consider that. What we want to do is take pieces off the board."

What's next: As part of Sunday's meeting at the DMZ, Trump said he and Kim have agreed to resume talks over the next few weeks. Biegun will lead negotiations for the U.S.

Editor's note: The attribution for the longer quotations in this story has been clarified to be from sources present at the conversation.

Go deeper

Exclusive: Biden administration raises minimum wage for federal employees to $15

A poster demanding a federal $15-per-hour minimum wage seen near the White House in Washington, D.C. on Feb. 26, 2021. Photo: Erin Scott/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Federal agencies are being directed to raise the minimum wages for government employees to $15 an hour, according to new guidance from the Office of Personnel Management shared first with Axios.

Why it matters: The guidance will impact almost 70,000 federal employees, most of which work at the Departments of Agriculture, Defense and Veterans Affairs. OMP is directing agencies to implement the new wage by Jan. 30.

Kate Marino, author of Markets
49 mins ago - Economy & Business

The Federal Reserve is open to creating a digital dollar

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The Federal Reserve finally released a much-delayed paper yesterday opining on the pros and cons of developing its own central bank digital currency (CBDC), but without coming to any firm conclusions.

Why it matters: Around the world, there are now 23 CBDCs either in pilot or formally launched. They have morphed from a theoretical concept into real-world digital cash, changing the way governments and millions of people use money — but not in the U.S.

50 mins ago - Health

The case for Operation Warp Speed 2.0

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Omicron's blitz around the world has underscored the need for a new arsenal of COVID vaccines and therapeutics, experts say — and that may require an effort akin to Operation Warp Speed 2.0.

Why it matters: The virus will continue to evolve, potentially in a way that further escapes vaccine protection, and the best way to prevent more global disruptions to everyday life is to have tools ready to combat whatever comes next.