Sister of the North Korean leader holds historic meeting with Moon Jae-in – the highest level contact between the two sides in over a decade
Benjamin Haas in Pyeongchang
South Korean president Moon Jae-in has met North Korean officials, including Kim Jong-un’s sister, over lunch at Seoul’s presidential palace, a historic event that is the highest level contact between the two nations in more than a decade.
Kim Yo-jong, the first member of Pyongyang’s ruling dynasty to set foot in the South since the end of the 1950-53 Korean War, accompanied Kim Yong-nam, North Korea’s ceremonial head of state, to the meeting.
Kim Yo-jong carried a bright blue folder as she entered the conference room at the Blue House, Seoul’s presidential office, and some analysts speculated it could contain a letter from her brother. It was the only documentation on the table on the North Korean side.
The meeting could be a prelude to a summit between leaders from the two countries, and Moon has already said he is willing to travel to Pyongyang to meet Kim Jong-un.
There has been a dramatic cooling of tensions on the Korean peninsula in the past two months and Moon has made it clear he hopes the rapprochement can continue after the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang ends.
But in a sign Kim Jong-un is unlikely to give up his nuclear arms, he used the day before the Olympics to host a massive military parade which included trucks carrying intercontinental ballistic missiles – weapons that could potentially strike the US mainland.
Saturday’s meeting between the two neighbours – technically still at war – is the first since 2007 when North Korea’s premier visited the presidential palace. The delegation of 22 officials from the North arrived on Friday in order to attend the opening ceremony for the Winter Olympics.
“You must have had a hard time due to the cold weather,” Moon said as he greeted Kim Yo-jong, referring to the frigid temperatures during Friday’s opening ceremony.
“It was okay because you, Mr President, were kind enough to care,” Kim Yo-jong replied, according to Yonhap news agency.
The warm reception was at odds with the position taken by US vice-president Mike Pence. He refused to acknowledge Kim Yong-nam during a brief stop at a dinner Friday night and remained seated when athletes from North and South Korea marched in the opening ceremony.
He said the US would take whatever “action is necessary to defend our homeland” against the North Korean nuclear threat, according to an interview with NBC.
“We’re going to continue to put all the pressure to bear economically and diplomatically, while preserving all of our military options to see that that happens,” Pence said.