SEOUL: The two Koreas opened high-level talks Monday to prepare for a possible summit in Pyongyang between the South’s President Moon Jae-in and the North’s leader Kim Jong Un, as the diplomatic thaw on the peninsula builds.
The exact date and location of what would be their third meeting have yet to be decided, but at their historic first summit in Panmunjom in April they agreed Moon would visit Kim in the North Korean capital during the autumn.
Monday’s high-level talks, taking place on the northern side of the truce village in the Demilitarized Zone, were proposed by the North last week as it lashed out at Washington for pushing ahead with sanctions.
“As the Pyongyang meeting of the leaders of the north and south is being discussed, I think talking about the issue will provide answers to the wishes of the people,” the North’s chief delegate Ri Son Gwon said in his opening statement.
Using a proverb describing a very intimate friend to refer to inter-Korean ties, Ri added: “We have opened an era where we are advancing hand in hand rather than standing in each other’s way.”
Despite the rapprochement, international sanctions against the North for its nuclear and missile programs have kept economic cooperation between the two Koreas from taking off, while little progress has been made on the key issue of Pyongyang’s denuclearization.
South Korea’s Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon, leading the delegation from Seoul, said it was important that the two Koreas keep “the same mind.”
“Many issues will be raised (at the meeting), but I think any problem can be resolved with that mindset,” Cho added.
The two Koreas have informally agreed the summit will take place in Pyongyang late this month or at the beginning of September, Yonhap News Agency reported Monday, without citing a source.
Cho addressed the possibility of Pyongyang raising the issue of sanctions to the South, and said: “We will explain our position to the North.”
The rapid rapprochement between the two neighbors that began this year 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 neighbors planning to hold reunions for war-separated families next week for the first time in three years.
But although Trump touted his summit with Kim as a historic breakthrough, the nuclear-armed North has since criticized 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 — Seoul has caught three South Korean firms importing coal and iron from the North last year in violation of the measures.
Analysts say Moon could try to act as a mediator between the US and North Korea, having salvaged the Singapore meeting when Trump abruptly canceled it.
If the third Moon-Kim summit takes place, the two are also 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.