SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — Envoys for South Korean President Moon Jae-in planned to meet Monday with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un at the start of a rare two-day visit to Pyongyang that’s expected to focus on how to ease a standoff over North Korea’s nuclear ambitions and restart talks between Pyongyang and Washington.
The 10-member South Korean delegation is led by Moon’s national security director, Chung Eui-yong. The meeting with Kim, which was announced by Moon’s office, would mark the first time South Korean officials have met with the young North Korean leader in person since he took power after his dictator father’s death in late 2011. Chung’s trip is the first known high-level visit by South Korean officials to the North in about a decade.
It wasn’t immediately clear what they would discuss or what else is on the itinerary of South Korean envoys’ trip. But hopes are high that the Koreas can extend the good feelings created by North Korea’s participation in the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics in South Korea last month. Kim’s barrage of weapons tests over the last year has raised fears of war.
If North Korea shows a willingness to disarm during the visit by the South Koreans, there is speculation that it and Washington could set up their own talks on the North’s nuclear weapons. But North Korea has repeatedly said it won’t put its nuclear program up for negotiation, while the United States has made clear that it doesn’t want empty talks and that all options, including military measures, are on the table. Previous warming ties between the Koreas have come to nothing because of North Korean weapons tests and the North’s claims that annual U.S.-South Korean war games, which will likely happen this spring, are a rehearsal for an invasion.
After their arrival in Pyongyang, the South Korean envoys met North Korean officials and worked out details of their trip, which includes attending a dinner hosted by Kim on Monday, according to Moon’s office.
North Korean officials had no immediate comment. The country’s state-run media reported that the delegation had arrived but had no further details.
Before leaving for Pyongyang, Chung said he will relay to North Korea Moon’s hopes for North Korean nuclear disarmament and a permeant peace on the Korean Peninsula.
"I will certainly deliver President Moon’s firm resolve to achieve a denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and genuine and permanent peace on the Korean Peninsula," Chung said. He said he’ll push for "in-depth" talks to find ways to help arrange the restart of dialogue between Pyongyang and Washington.
Chung’s delegation includes intelligence chief Suh Hoon and Vice Unification Minister Chun Hae-sung. The presidential Blue House said the high-profile delegation is meant to reciprocate the trip by Kim Jong Un’s sister, Kim Yo Jong, who became the first member of the North’s ruling family to come to South Korea since the end of the 1950-53 Korean War.
Kim Yo Jong and other senior North Korean officials met with Moon, conveyed Kim Jong Un’s invitation to visit Pyongyang and expressed their willingness to hold talks with the United States.
After the Pyongyang trip, Chung’s delegation is to fly to the United States to brief officials about the outcome of the talks with North Korean officials.
President Donald Trump said talks with North Korea will happen only "under the right conditions." Moon has yet to accept Kim’s invitation to visit Pyongyang for what would be the third inter-Korean summit talks. The past two summit talks, one in 2000 and the other in 2007, were held between Kim’s late father, Kim Jong Il, and two liberal South Korean presidents.
Some experts say the North’s outreach during the Olympics was an attempt to use improved ties with South Korea as a way to break out of diplomatic isolation and weaken U.S.-led international sanctions and pressure on the country.