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South Korean special envoy visits Pyongyang, delivers letter to North’s Kim

by Jesse Johnson

Staff Writer

A South Korean special envoy delivered a letter from President Moon Jae-in to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on Wednesday during a rare visit to Pyongyang — part of a bid to help break an impasse in nuclear negotiations with the U.S. and plan for Moon’s third summit with Kim later this month.

A five-member delegation led by national security chief Chung Eui-yong arrived in the North Korean capital Wednesday morning and met with Kim later in the day, the Yonhap news agency reported, quoting a spokesman with South Korea’s presidential Blue House.

The delegation was due to depart Pyongyang late Wednesday evening after a dinner event, the Blue House added.

Earlier Wednesday, the delegation was greeted by Ri Son-kwon, chairman of North Korea’s Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Country, and other committee officials.

The South Koreans later met with Kim Yong-chol, the North’s de facto No. 2 official who is also serving as its point man in talks with South Korea and the United States.

The same South Korean delegation — which also included spy chief Suh Hoon — helped broker the historic first meeting between U.S. President Donald Trump and Kim in June.

On Tuesday, Chung told a news conference that the delegation was to discuss a wide range of issues, including the date for the upcoming Kim-Moon summit, ways to establish peace on the Korean Peninsula and the North’s denuclearization.

“First, the delegation will seek to set a specific date for the South-North summit that the countries have already agreed to hold in Pyongyang in September,” Chung said.

“Second, it will discuss ways to develop South-North Korean relations by implementing the Panmunjom Declaration,” he added.

Moon and Kim held their first summit at the border village of Panmunjom on April 27, which concluded with the so-called Panmunjom Declaration that set goals for promoting peace and prosperity on the Korean Peninsula.

The two also held a second bilateral summit on May 26, which was followed by the North Korean leader’s historic summit with Trump in Singapore on June 12.

The result of the Singapore summit was a vaguely worded 1½-page joint statement in which Kim agreed to “work towards the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula” and Trump committed to “provide security guarantees.”

At Wednesday’s meeting, the South Korean officials were also seeking to kick-start the U.S.-North Korea denuclearization talks.

“The special delegation also plans to hold discussions on ways to completely denuclearize (the peninsula) and establish lasting peace on the Korean Peninsula,” Chung said.

The U.S.-North Korea talks hit a wall last month, prompting U.S. President Donald Trump to cancel a planned trip to Pyongyang by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo just hours before he was due to leave. Media reports cited a belligerent secret letter from Kim Yong Chol that put the possibility of a successful visit in doubt.

Late Tuesday, Moon and Trump spoke over the phone, according to a statement from the South Korean president’s office. Moon told Trump that improvements in inter-Korean ties would help the goal of denuclearization. The two leaders also agreed to meet at the United Nations General Assembly in late September.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders later confirmed in a statement that the two leaders planned to meet on the sidelines of the U.N. session. Moon also briefed Trump about the special envoy dispatch, according to Sanders, and “promised a readout of that meeting.”

“The two leaders discussed the latest developments on the Korean Peninsula, including our ongoing efforts to achieve the final, fully verified denuclearization of North Korea as agreed to by Chairman Kim Jong Un,” Sanders said in a statement.

Mintaro Oba, a former U.S. State Department official who focused on North Korea, said one of the key goals of the trip would be to inject fresh momentum into the stalled nuclear talks.

“They are undoubtedly hoping to convince the North Koreans to stay invested in the diplomatic process with the United States and give them something positive they can take back to the Trump administration to keep Washington in the mood for engagement,” Oba said.

The nuclear talks may be at an impasse 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.

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.