Delegation travels to Pyongyang with aim to denuclearise peninsula and foster US talks
Daniel Hurst in Tokyo
A high-ranking South Korean delegation is setting off for the North Korea capital for historic talks in an effort to reduce nuclear tensions and pave the way for US talks.
Before leaving Seoul, Chung Eui-yong, the head of the presidential national security office who is leading the 10-strong delegation, said the key aim was denuclearisation.
He told a press briefing: “Most of all, I will deliver President Moon Jae-in’s sincere and firm resolution to maintain the dialogue and improvement in relations between the South and the North, which were fostered on the occasion of the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, to denuclearise the Korean Peninsula.”
Chung added that he planned to hold in-depth discussions on ways to continue talks between not only the South and the North, but also the North and the US.
Their trip to Pyongyang on Monday marks the first of its kind since the liberal-leaning Moon was sworn in as South Korean president last year. It follows two months of easing tensions between the two neighbours, which technically remain in a state of war as the 1950-53 Korean war ended in an armistice rather than a peace treaty.
Last year was characterised by an escalation of tensions as Kim Jong-un’s regime proceeded with nuclear and weapons tests, including the launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile with the apparent capability to reach the US mainland. Donald Trump responded by threatening unprecedented “fire and fury” and to “totally destroy” North Korea if the US was forced to defend itself or its allies.
However, the North and South resumed dialogue in January after a two-year gap in order to discuss joint participation in the Winter Olympics. This led to the symbolic step of athletes from the two Koreas marching together into the opening ceremony. Kim’s younger sister, Kim Yo-jong, met Moon the following day and invited him to travel to the North for talks with Kim.
Moon has signalled that he would agree to such a meeting only if the conditions were right, including a reopening of talks between Pyongyang and Washington.
The South Korean delegation was due to fly to Pyongyang on Monday afternoon before returning on Tuesday. Chung and another delegate, National Intelligence Service chief Suh Hoon, are expected to travel to the US soon afterwards to disclose any details directly to US officials.
The White House has previously vowed to maintain pressure on the North while waiting to see if the regime’s willingness to talk represented “the first steps along the path to denuclearisation”.
In North Korea’s official media on the weekend, the regime indicated it was willing to talk with the US “on an equal footing”, in a repudiation of the demand to abandon its nuclear weapons program.