By the Associated Press
SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — Special envoys for South Korean President Moon Jae-in travelled to North Korea on Monday to relay Moon’s hopes for North Korean nuclear disarmament and a permanent peace on the Korean Peninsula.
The 10-member delegation led by Moon’s national security director, Chung Eui-yong, is on a two-day trip that may include talks with leader Kim Jong Un. If that meeting is realized, Chung and others would become the first South Korean officials to meet Kim in person since he took power upon his dictator father’s death in late 2011.
Kim’s barrage of weapons tests over the last year has raised fears of war. But Moon is pressing what he sees as momentum created by North Korea’s participation in last month’s Pyeongchang Winter Olympics. Kim’s sister, Kim Yo Jong, led a high-level delegation south.
If North Korea shows a willingness to disarm, it could indicate a restart of dialogue between Pyongyang and Washington to defuse the North Korean nuclear standoff.
“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 before his departure. He said he’ll push for “in-depth” talks to find ways to help arrange the restart of dialogue between Pyongyang and Washington.
Chung and other envoys left for Pyongyang from a military airport near Seoul later Monday. The delegation includes intelligence chief Suh Hoon and Vice Unification Minister Chun Hae-sung. The presidential Blue House said the high-profile delegation is to reciprocate the trip by Kim Yo Jong, who became the first member of the North’s ruling Kim family to come to South Korea since the end of the 1950-53 Korean War.
Kim Yo Jong and other senior North Korean officials came to the start and close of the Olympics, during which they met Moon and conveyed Kim Jong Un’s invitation to visit Pyongyang and expressed their willingness to hold talks with the United States.
After its Pyongyang trip, Chung’s delegation is to fly to the United States to brief officials about the outcome of its talks with North Korean officials.
North Korea has repeatedly said it won’t put its nuclear program on a negotiating table, while the United States has made it clear that it doesn’t want talks for the sake of talks and said all options, including military measures, are on the table.
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.