North agrees to talks with U.S.

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North agrees to talks with U.S.


In this photo released by the North’s Korean Central News Agency, President Moon Jae-in’s special envoy Chung Eui-yong, center left, shakes hands with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in Pyongyang on Monday. Kim is holding a letter from Moon delivered by Chung. Behind Kim is his younger sister, Kim Yo-jong. [YONHAP]

North Korea expressed its intention to have a candid dialogue with the United States to discuss denuclearization and promised a moratorium on nuclear and ballistic missile tests during the period of talks, President Moon Jae-in’s special envoy to Pyongyang said Tuesday.

The two Koreas also agreed to hold a summit at the truce village of Panmunjom in late April, Chung Eui-yong, head of the Blue House’s National Security Office, said in the evening as he announced the outcome of his two-day trip to Pyongyang, which included a meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un that lasted more than four hours.

“North Korea made clear its will for denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” Chung said. “It also assured that it has no reason to own nuclear arms if military threats against the North are resolved and the regime’s security is guaranteed.”

According to Chung, the North also expressed its intention to have candid talks with the United States to discuss denuclearization issues and normalization of North Korea-U.S. relations.

“While the talks are ongoing, the North made clear that it will not conduct any additional nuclear tests or ballistic missile firings,” Chung said. “Furthermore, the North assured that its nuclear weapons and conventional arms will not be used against the South.”

Chung also said the two Koreas agreed to create a hotline between Moon and Kim for consultations and to ease military tensions. They agreed to have their first phone call before the summit in April.

The two Koreas will start talks to arrange the summit, which will take place at Peace House in Panmunjom, in late April. The North also invited the South Korean taekwondo demonstration team and artists to Pyongyang in order to continue the reconciliatory mood between the two Koreas.

Five envoys of Moon, including Chung, visited the North on Monday on a mission to persuade the North to start talks with the United States for denuclearization. Suh Hoon, director of the National Intelligence Service (NIS), Chun Hae-sung, vice minister of unification, Kim Sang-gyun, second deputy director of the NIS, and Yun Kun-young, presidential secretary for state affairs monitoring, were other special envoys.

The five envoys attended a meeting and dinner hosted by North Korean leader Kim for four hours and 12 minutes starting from 6 p.m. on Monday. After further talks with North Korean officials, the delegation returned to Seoul at 5:58 p.m. Tuesday and briefed Moon about its trip. Chung, then, held a media conference to announce the outcome of his visit.

Chung said he will visit the United States to brief the Donald Trump administration about the trip. He said that he has a message from the North to be delivered to the United States, but refused to elaborate on the specifics.

Earlier on Tuesday, expectations were sanguine about the achievements of the trip, as both Seoul and Pyongyang spoke positively about the special envoys’ visit.

The North’s Korean Central News Agency confirmed that the two sides reached a “satisfactory agreement” on a summit. North Korea’s leader sent his sister Kim Yo-jong as a special envoy to South Korea in February to invite Moon to visit Pyongyang. Moon’s envoys were reciprocating her trip.

According to Kim Eui-kyeom, Moon’s spokesman, the meeting and dinner hosted by Kim took place at the headquarters of the North Korean Workers’ Party. “It is the first time that South Korean officials visited the Workers’ Party headquarters,” he said.

Kim attended the meeting with two close aides: his younger sister Kim Yo-jong, who serves as the first vice director of the Central Committee within the Workers’ Party, and Kim Yong-chol, a vice chairman of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party.

Following the meeting, the envoys and the three North Korean leaders attended a dinner, where more members of Pyongyang’s power elite were gathered. Kim Jong-un’s wife, Ri Sol-ju, attended as well as Ri Son-gwon, chairman of the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Country, Maeng Kyong-il, deputy director of the United Front Department and Kim Chang-son, chief secretary to the North Korean leader.

Earlier in the morning, the North Korean wire agency also released a report about the envoys’ meeting with Kim, announcing that the talks with the South Korean delegation took place in a compatriotic and sincere atmosphere.

The report said the North Korean leader and the South Korean envoys had an “openhearted talk.”

While the report said Chung delivered Moon’s letter to Kim, it made no mention of Moon’s push for denuclearization and direct talks with the United States.

The North Korean media issued unusually fast and detailed reports about the visit by Moon’s special envoys to Pyongyang. Photos of the events hosted for the visitors were also released with scant delay.

Kim Jong-un made an unprecedented move by hosting the special envoys at his office in the main building of the Workers’ Party. The building is considered a key target of any U.S. military strike that could be planned.

During the past two inter-Korean summits in 2000 and 2007, when Kim’s late father met with South Korean Presidents Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun, respectively, the South Korean visitors were not invited to the Workers’ Party building.

“It was probably in return for Moon’s invitation of Kim Yo-jong to the Blue House,” a senior government official said. “Kim’s decision to make public his smiling face to the North Korean media is probably an expression of confidence or satisfaction with the visiting delegation.”

An extraordinary level of welcome was also seen during the dinner. It was the first time that Kim’s wife Ri met South Korean officials since she became the first lady of the reclusive state.

“This is an attempt to create the image of a leader of a normal country,” said Chon Hyun-joon, a visiting professor at the Department of Military Security at Woosuk University. “The North Korean media’s speedy reports about the special envoys and an agreement for an inter-Korean summit are also an attempt to take the initiative and send a message to the United States that it must stop any military attack plan because the two Koreas are now talking.”

Since he took power after his father Kim Jong-il’s death in December 2011, Kim Jong-un has had only seven meetings with foreign delegations, all from countries friendly with North Korea, including China, Cuba and Syria.

It was the first time for the young ruler to meet top South Korean officials. He briefly met with Lee Hee-ho, widow of former President Kim Dae-jung, and Hyundai Group Chairwoman Hyun Jeong-eun during their visit to Kim Jong-il’s funeral in 2011.

“There were a considerable number of South Koreans who had met Kim Jong-il when he was alive, so we had information about him,” said a senior intelligence official. “To be honest, we had almost no information about Kim Jong-un.”

The young ruler’s approach to yesterday’s meeting and dinner was clearly different from his father. When South Korean officials visited the North for meetings with Kim Jong-il, he kept them in suspense without any definite schedule until he made surprise appearances.

Kim Jong-un met with the special envoys only three hours after their arrival and hosted a dinner for several hours.

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