Wednesday, February 20, 2019 | ePaper

Koreas to hold high-level talks to prepare for leaders' summit

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Moon had agreed to visit Kim in Pyongyang during the autumn after the two leaders held a historic meeting in April .

AFP, Seoul :
The two Koreas will hold high-level talks next week to prepare for a third summit between the South's President Moon Jae-in and the North's leader Kim Jong Un, Seoul said Thursday, as a diplomatic rapprochement takes hold.
Although the South's unification ministry did not elaborate on where the summit would take place, Moon had previously agreed to visit Kim in Pyongyang during the autumn after the two leaders held a historic meeting in April.
In a statement the ministry said the two sides would hold high-level talks on Monday on the Northern side of the truce village of Panmunjom to "discuss preparatory matters regarding a South-North summit".
The overture came from Pyongyang, Seoul said, which suggested Thursday the two sides hold talks to "review progress" since the April summit that paved the way for a landmark meeting between Kim and US President Donald Trump in Singapore in June.
Cross-border exchanges between the two Koreas have significantly increased since then, with the neighbours planning to hold reunions for war-separated families later this month for the first time in three years.
The South Korean delegation at Monday's meeting will be led by Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon, who visited Pyongyang last month to attend a friendly basketball match between the two Koreas, Seoul said. "We will hold in-depth discussions with the North for a successful South-North summit," the ministry said. The summit will mark the third meeting between Moon and Kim, after the two leaders held a surprise encounter in May.
Sporting cooperation helped spark a diplomatic thaw after the North agreed to participate in the Winter Olympics held in the South last February, sending athletes and top officials including Kim's sister Kim Yo Jong to the Games.
But even as ties have improved, little progress has been made on the key issue of the North's denuclearisation.
Although Trump touted his summit with Kim as a historic breakthrough, the nuclear-armed North has since criticised Washington for its "gangster-like" demands of complete, verifiable and irreversible disarmament.
Meanwhile the US has urged the international community to maintain tough sanctions on the isolated regime.
Moon, who has prioritised improving ties with the North, played a key role in brokering a remarkable detente between Washington and Pyongyang after months of Kim and Trump trading insults and threats of war.
At a summit in April in the Demilitarized Zone that divides the peninsula, Moon and Kim shook hands for the first time, with Kim famously inviting his South Korean counterpart to step briefly into the North in an unscripted moment before live TV cameras.
They met a second time a month later in a bid to salvage a planned summit between Kim and Trump, after the US leader cancelled, citing "open hostility" from Pyongyang, before changing his mind and heading to Singapore.
Koo Kab-woo, professor at the University of North Korean Studies, said Moon was trying to act as a mediator between Pyongyang and Washington as the two sides struggle to find common ground on denuclearisation.
"The second meeting (between Moon and Kim) helped when the US-North Korea summit was cancelled so I think he is hoping to do the same again", Koo told AFP.
But other analysts cautioned that Moon's outreach to Pyongyang could backfire if hawkish minds prevail within the Trump administration, potentially hurting Seoul's ties with Washington.
Kim Hyun-wook, professor at the Korea National Diplomatic Academy, said Seoul could then find itself "faced with a dilemma between independently pushing for South-North relations or going along with Washington's tougher stance against Pyongyang".
If it goes ahead, the meeting between Moon and Kim is expected to focus on hammering out a consensus on officially ending the 1950-53 Korean War, which concluded with an armistice instead of a peace treaty

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