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South Korean president taps national security chief to head special delegation’s Wednesday visit to Pyongyang

by Jesse Johnson

Staff Writer

South Korean President Moon Jae-in on Sunday tapped his national security chief as a special envoy to lead a delegation on a one-day trip to North Korea on Wednesday as Moon seeks to kick-start stalled nuclear negotiations with the U.S. and plan for his third summit with North leader Kim Jong Un later this month.

National security adviser Chung Eui-yong will head the five-member delegation to Pyongyang. The delegation includes spy chief Suh Hoon, Vice Unification Minister Chun Hae-sung, Yun Kun-young, presidential secretary for state affairs, and top NIS official Kim Sang-gyun.

The team consists of the same members that visited Pyongyang for a breakthrough meeting with Kim in early March.

“The reason the delegation consists of the same officials from the first delegation is because the government considered the importance of continuity in dialogue with North Korea in achieving the objective of the North Korea trip,” South Korea’s Yonhap news agency quoted presidential Blue House spokesman Kim Eui-kyeom as saying.

It was unclear if they would be able to meet with the North Korean leader during their visit, the spokesman added.

Moon and Kim held their first summit at the border village of Panmunjom on April 27. They also held a second bilateral summit on May 26, which was followed by Kim’s historic summit with U.S. President Donald Trump in Singapore on June 12.

The delegation will discuss a wide range of issues, including the date for the upcoming Kim-Moon summit and ways to establish peace on the Korean Peninsula, the Blue House said last week.

Seoul has expressed hopes that the summit meeting will inject fresh momentum into the stalled denuclearization talks.

“Obviously, President Moon’s role as a mediator has only become greater,” a Blue House official told Yonhap on condition of anonymity.

The official said the president will likely highlight the need to resume U.S.-North Korea dialogue when he meets Kim.

The rival Koreas agreed on a visit by Moon to Pyongyang before the end of September during high-level talks in August. Recent events — including the apparent impasse in nuclear talks between Pyongyang and Washington — had left some wondering if the summit would be held.

Trump last month canceled a planned trip to Pyongyang by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo just hours before the top U.S. diplomat was due to leave, after receiving a belligerent secret letter from North Korea’s No. 2, Kim Yong Chol, that put the possibility of a successful visit in doubt, according to media reports.

While the exact contents of the message were unclear, The Washington Post reported that it was “sufficiently belligerent” that Trump and Pompeo decided to call off what would have been the diplomat’s fourth visit to Pyongyang.

The nuclear talks may be stalled over the two parties’ understanding of what was agreed to at the June summit. Kim is said to be seeking a declaration to end the Korean War, a step ahead of a formal peace treaty. Fighting in the 1950-53 war was halted by an armistice, which has governed the conflict ever since.

Last week, news website Vox reported that Trump told Kim at the Singapore summit that he would sign such a declaration soon after their meeting, according to multiple sources familiar with the negotiations.

Since then, however, the White House has repeatedly asked Pyongyang to dismantle most of its nuclear arsenal first, before signing such a document — a move that has likely angered the North Koreans, the report said.

Despite the apparent disagreement, Trump has maintained that his relationship with the North’s Kim “is a very good and warm one,” and that he is open to another meeting with the leader.

One chance for such a meeting will be at the United Nations General Assembly later this month in New York.

The Blue House is now reportedly setting its sights on helping to broker such a meeting, which could be discussed during Wednesday’s talks, with Moon Chung-in, a special adviser to Moon, floating a trial balloon last week about the possibility.

“Wouldn’t it be wonderful if President Trump, President Xi Jinping, President Moon Jae-in, and Chairman Kim Jong Un meet together at the United Nations (and) adopt the declaration to end the Korean War?” he said in an interview with The Atlantic magazine. “That would be a really epochal event for peace and denuclearization in Korea.”

One Blue House official said that this would be ideal in ensuring peace on the Korean Peninsula and denuclearizing the North, but cautioned against pushing too hard for such a meeting.

“It would be ideal, but declaring a formal end of the war at the U.N. meeting is not the first objective we are aiming for. Enabling North Korea-U.S. dialogue is,” Yonhap quoted the official as saying.