South Korea's Moon arrives in Pyongyang in bid to revive stalled nuclear talks
September 17 at 9:26 PM
TOKYO â" South Koreaâs President Moon Jae-in arrived in Pyongyang on Tuesday for his third summit this year with his North Korean counterpart, Kim Jong Un, in an attempt to unlock an impasse with the United States over denuclearization.
It is the first time since October 2007, and only the third time since the division of the peninsula, that a South Korean leader has visited the North Korean capital.
Emerging from the plane with his wife, Kim Jung-sook, Moon was greeted on a red carpet on the tarmac by Kim and his wife, Ri Sol Ju.
The two men embraced, smiled warmly and chatted briefly, while their wives shook hands and talked. A military band played, and several hundred invited guests waved the flags of North Korea and a unified Korean Peninsula, as well as flower bouquets.
The presidents then inspected a military guard and stood on a podium as goose-stepping troops marched past.
Moonâs first summit with Kim in April unleashed a wave of optimism in South Korea about the prospects for peace across the divided peninsula, but the good feeling has waned as the scale of the task ahead has become more obvious. At the same time, Moonâs popularity has fallen sharply, albeit largely because of rising unemployment and soaring property prices.
The South Korean president appears to be gambling that he can revive the stalled nuclear talks and his popularity at the same time.
âWhat I want to achieve is peace,â he said in a weekly meeting with his top aides Monday, ânot a tentative change which could be volatile dependent on the international situation but irreversible, permanent and unwavering peace, regardless of what might happen on the global arena.â
Moon brought with him an entourage including the heads of some of South Koreaâs largest conglomerates, as wel l K-pop stars and even South Koreaâs national soccer coach, there to make a seemingly unlikely proposal that the two nations jointly bid to hold the 2034 World Cup.
Business leaders are there to underline the potential economic rewards for North Korea should it denuclearize, although deals canât be made unless and until U.S.-led sanctions are lifted.
Moon will meet Kim on Tuesday and Wednesday, with two principal goals in mind. The first, according to Moonâs chief of staff, Im Jong-seok, is to ink âmeaningfulâ agreements to ease tensions across the worldâs most militarized border.
Those could include a deal to pull back some guard posts at the heavily mined front line, disarm an area of the border near the shared village of Panmunjom and reduce the chance of clashes along their shared maritime boundary.
Im said that the measures would âfundamentally remove the danger of armed clashes and ease fears of war,â but he warned that the details hadnât been agreed upon going into the summit.
More ambitious is Moonâs attempt to unlock an impasse between Pyongyang and Washington over who should make the next move in their dialogue over peace and denuclearization.
The United States wants North Korea to take a meaningful step toward dismantling its nuclear weapons program, starting by declaring all its nuclear and missile facilities.
North Korea says it has already dismantled two nuclear and missile testing sites this year, and it wants the United States to declare that the 1950-53 Korean War is formally over, to reduce hostility and build mutual trust.
Moon said he would try to talk the issue over âcandidlyâ with Kim, âto seek common ground between the United Statesâ call for denuclearization measures and the Northâs demand for corresponding steps for security guarantees and an end of hostility.â
One proposal being widely discussed in Seoul is âdeclaration for declarationâ â" that a declaration by one side would be swiftly followed by a corresponding declaration from the other side, diplomats and officials said.
Rodong Sinmun, the official newspaper of the Workersâ Party of Korea, said Monday that both sides should strive to create a âa new history of peace, prosperity and reunificationâ between the two Koreas that would âadd to the joy of our people.â
But Im, Moonâs chief of staff, was cautious, playing down what he called âexpectations for huge accomplishmentsâ on denuclearization at the summit.
âThis is the part we are very cautious about, one we find very difficult and hard to have any optimistic outlook about,â he told reporters, explaining that progress depended on the two leadersâ conversations and could not be agreed upon in advance by junior officials.
âDepending on how candidly the two leaders talk through the issue, whether any concrete agreement on denuclearization can be reached, an d if that can make it to a joint statement, if not a statement, whether a verbal agreement can be reached and be announced, all these questions are blank ones for us at the moment,â he said.
The Korean War ended with an armistice rather than a peace deal.
An end-of-war declaration would be only one step toward a more formal peace treaty, but some members of the Trump administration are concerned that it could be used to undermine the justification for the presence of U.S. military bases in South Korea.
The summit will continue Wednesday morning, after which â" if it goes well â" the two leaders will hold a joint news conference that will be beamed live to Seoul.
Unless the discussions continue, Moon will have lunch at Okryu-gwan, a famous restaurant in Pyongyang, followed by a tour of the city and then a farewell banquet. He will fly back to Seoul on Thursday morning.
If the talks are successful, they could pave the way for a second summit bet ween Kim and President Trump later this year, officials and diplomats say.
âIf the dialogue between the U.S. and North Korea is resumed because of my visit to North Korea, that is meaningful in itself,â Moon was quoted as saying by spokesman Yoon Young-chan, just before leaving Tuesday.
Min Joo Kim reported from Seoul.
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