Seoul to Send Delegation on Two-Day North Korea Visit

Seoul to Send Delegation on Two-Day North Korea Visit

Sunday, 4 March, 2018 - 12:45
South Korean President Moon Jae-in. (Reuters)
Asharq Al-Awsat
South Korea will send on Monday a delegation for talks in North Korea announced the presidential Blue House on Sunday.

The delegation will be led by security officials as part of an effort to lower tensions on the Korean peninsula as well as possibly arrange talks between North Korea and the United States, it said.

The Blue House said in a statement that National Security Office (NSO) head Chung Eui-yong and National Intelligence Service (NIS) chief Suh Hoon, a veteran of past negotiations with the North, will be among the 10-member South Korean delegation visiting Pyongyang.

They will be the first known South Korean special envoys to travel to Pyongyang in about 10 years.

After the visit to North Korea the envoys will travel to the United States to brief officials, and Seoul said it would also coordinate closely with officials in Japan and China.

The announcement came shortly after US President Donald Trump hinted that he is ready to talk to Pyongyang.

For its part, North Korea said it was not begging to talk with Washington and denounced upcoming US-South Korean joint-military exercises, warning that it would take counter measures against the United States if they went ahead.

The drills will take place next month, a South Korean presidential security adviser said according to the Yonhap news agency. They had been delayed until after the Winter Olympics and Paralympic games in South Korea.

During a joke-filled monologue at a dinner with journalists in Washington on Saturday, Trump suggested that the United States will be meeting with North Korea but has told Pyongyang it must first “denuke.”

“We will be meeting and we’ll see if anything positive happens,” he added.

It was unclear if Trump was joking or if formal US-North Korea talks were imminent.

Speaking on Sunday in Beijing ahead of the opening of China’s parliament, Vice Foreign Minister Zhang Yesui said China hoped the United States and North Korea could begin dialogue too.

“War and chaos on the peninsula in not in the interests of any side,” Zhang said.

Last month, US Vice President Mike Pence was scheduled to meet with North Korean officials, including leader Kim Jong Un’s sister, while in South Korea for the Winter Olympics but the North Koreans canceled at the last minute, US officials said in February.

North Korea reiterated on Saturday that it was willing to talk to the United States but said it would never sit with any precondition.

A North Korean foreign ministry spokesman was quoted by KCNA as saying “we will neither beg for dialogue nor evade the military option claimed by the US.”

A commentary published by North Korea’s official KCNA news agency warned that North Korea would “counter the US” if joint military drills go forward.

In the past, South Korea sent special envoys to Pyongyang to reach breakthrough deals aimed at reducing animosities and securing higher-level talks.

The Koreas' two past summit talks, one in 2000 and the other in 2007, were both held after ranking South Korean officials went to Pyongyang and worked out details of the summits in advance.

The last known South Korean special envoy to travel to Pyongyang was the country's intelligence chief, who visited a few months before the 2007 summit.

The Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang last month gave a boost to recent engagement between the two Koreas after more than a year of sharply rising tensions over the North’s missile program and its sixth and largest nuclear test in defiance of United Nations sanctions.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in hopes to capitalize on that thaw in relations by arranging talks over North Korea’s nuclear weapons and ballistic missile program.

During a phone call on Thursday, Moon told Trump of his plan to send a special envoy to North Korea in response to an invitation from leader Kim Jong Un.

In sending an envoy to Pyongyang, Moon said he would be seeking to reciprocate Kim Jong Un’s decision to send a senior delegation, including his sister, Kim Yo Jong, to the Olympics, marking the first visit by a member of the North’s ruling bloodline since the 1950-53 Korean War.

The White House has said any talks with North Korea must lead to an end of its nuclear program, and on February 23, the United States said it was imposing its largest package of sanctions to pressure North Korea to give up its nuclear and missile programs.

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