North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on Monday met South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s special envoys, who are visiting Pyongyang on a mission to broker denuclearization talks between the North and the United States, Seoul’s presidential office Cheong Wa Dae said.
The reclusive North Korean leader had talks with the South Korean officials and hosted a welcome dinner, apparently reflecting his willingness to improve his country’s ties with the South.
“Chairman Kim Jong Un is currently hosting a dinner for the special envoys,” Kim Eui-kyeom, a Cheong Wa Dae spokesman, told a press briefing.
The meeting began 6 p.m., about three hours after the 10-member South Korean delegation arrived at Pyongyang’s Sunan airport, he said.
It was the first time the reclusive North Korean leader had met South Korean officials.
The delegation, headed by the chief of the presidential National Security Office, Chung Eui-yong, was said to be carrying a letter from the South Korean president for the North Korean leader.
It was not clear whether the letter has been delivered.
The Cheong Wa Dae spokesman said no additional contact has been made by the South Korean envoys as of 11 p.m. This follows the earlier report that said the envoys were received at the Pyongyang airport by Ri Son-gwon, chief of a North Korean agency in charge of inter-Korean affairs.
Ri was part of a high-level North Korean delegation to the opening ceremony of the Pyeongchang Winter Olympic Games held Feb. 9-25.
The North Korea trip by the South Korean delegation, the first of its kind since Moon took office in May 2017, follows recent rapprochement between the two Koreas, which technically remain at war, as the 1950-53 Korean War ended with an armistice not a peace treaty.
The divided Koreas resumed their dialogue in January, after a two-year hiatus, to discuss the North’s participation in the Pyeongchang Olympics.
In a message delivered by his younger sister, Kim Yo Jong, the North Korean leader has also asked Moon to visit Pyongyang at an early date for what would be a third inter-Korean summit.
Cheong Wa Dae said the visit by the South Korean envoys was partly aimed at reciprocating the recent visits by Kim Yo Jong and other high-level North Korean officials to the opening and closing ceremonies of the Pyeongchang Olympics.
Moon, however, has said the recent improvement in inter-Korean ties must lead to a resumption of international dialogue on ending North Korea’s nuclear ambition and of talks between the United States and North Korea.
“I plan to hold in-depth discussions on various ways to continue talks between not only the South and the North, but also the North and the United States and the international community,” Chung said shortly before his departure for Pyongyang.
The South Korean envoys, including Suh Hoon, chief of the country’s spy agency National Intelligence Service, arrived in Pyongyang at 2:50 p.m, about one hour after their departure from Seoul Air Base, according to the Cheong Wa Dae spokesman. The North’s state media earlier confirmed their arrival.
The United States has said it too is willing to hold talks with North Korea, shortly after the North’s point man on South Korea, Kim Yong Chol, told Moon his country has enough willingness to hold U.S.-North Korea dialogue.
The Whie House, however, apparently remains skeptical about the North’s intentions in improving ties with the South. It said it will first see if the North Korean official’s remarks represented Pyongyang’s first step toward denuclearization.
The South Korean envoys are set to return home Tuesday. Cheong Wa Dae said Chung and Suh will visit Washington shortly after their return from the communist North to explain the outcome of their trip to Pyongyang.