Asia Pacific

South Korea’s Moon plans to send envoy to North Korea soon

AP, Reuters

South Korean President Moon Jae-in plans to send a special envoy to North Korea soon to set up more meaningful dialogue that Seoul hopes will eventually include disarming the North of nuclear weapons.

Seoul’s presidential office said Moon revealed the plans to U.S. President Donald Trump in a 30-minute telephone conversation late Thursday.

Moon and Trump “agreed to continue to make efforts to head toward the Korean Peninsula’s denuclearization by maintaining the momentum of South-North dialogue,” the Blue House statement said.

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

A White House statement said Moon briefed Trump “on developments regarding North Korea and inter-Korean talks” but did not elaborate.

North Korean officials who visited the South for the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics said Kim wants to hold a summit with Moon and that North Korea aims to open talks with the United States.

North Korea sent around 500 people to the Olympics — including high-level officials, athletes, artists, journalists and cheerleaders — as part of conciliatory gestures with the South that brought a temporary lull to tensions surrounding its nuclear program.

Experts say the North’s outreach over the Olympics shows its ambition to break out of diplomatic isolation and pressure by improving relations with the South and using that as a bridge to approach the United States.

On the visit, Kim Yo Jong told Moon that her brother wishes to meet Moon in North Korea soon. Kim Yong Chol, a vice chairman of North Korea’s ruling Workers’ Party Central Committee, during his talks with Moon said the North has “ample intentions” for holding talks with the United States.

Moon has yet to firmly commit to a summit, saying that the Koreas must first create an “environment” for that to happen.

Trump has responded to North Korea’s overture by saying that talks with Pyongyang will happen only if conditions are right. The U.S. has said North Korea must make a clear commitment to eliminating its nuclear and missile programs before any talks can take place.

“The president wants to continue working with South Korea. It’s a strong ally. We have no daylight between the two of us. We’re going to continue those conversations,” White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters later on Thursday.

“The ultimate goal is to denuclearize the peninsula. That’s what we’re focused on and we’re excited about any steps moving forward in that process,” she said.