A high-ranking delegation from South Korea is in North Korea today and has met with that country’s reclusive leader Kim Jong Un, the South Korean government announced. The group, a 10-member delegation, was sent to Pyongyang by South Korean President Moon Jae-in, to focus on inter-Korean relations and lay the groundwork for talks, which would include the United States, on the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.
The delegation included high-ranking officials from the country’s security services, as well as the Blue House, South Korea’s equivalent of the White House. It also included Suh Hoon, the head of South Korea’s national intelligence service.
Suh was tapped by Moon to be the director of South Korea’s National Intelligence Service last year. He had previously helped to coordinate two summits between leaders of the two Koreas in the 2000s. His inclusion in the delegation suggests plans are being made for a summit between Moon and Kim.
There has been a marked thaw in relations between the two nations in recent weeks that have a been a far cry from the missile tests and tough rhetoric that brought the peninsula to the brink of open war last year.
Kim Jong Un began the year calling for a “melting” of frozen North-South relations and followed that up quickly with the sending of a North Korean athletic delegation to the South Korean Olympic Winter Games last month. Athletes from the two nations marched in the opening ceremony under a unified flag, and also fielded a joint women’s field hockey team.
Kim Yo Jong, Kim Jong Un’s younger sister and head of the North’s propaganda department, extended an invitation to South Korean President Moon Jae-in to visit the North last month. The younger Kim was in South Korea to head the North Korea’s Olympic delegation.
Vice President Mike Pence, who was also in PyeongChang heading the U.S. delegation, had a secret meeting set up with the North Koreans during his trip, but after Pence took publicized steps that the North Korean’s found objectionable, the North Koreans cancelled the meeting. According to Pence’s office, the moves were carefully orchestrated to make Pence look like a warrior against North Korea’s propaganda.
The U.S. has said repeatedly that they are open to dialogue with the North, but abandonment of their nuclear missile program is a prerequisite.
“The point is, no pressure comes off until they are actually doing something that the alliance believes represents a meaningful step toward denuclearization,” Pence said last month. “So the maximum pressure campaign is going to continue and intensify. But if you want to talk, we’ll talk.”
The North Koreans have called that condition “preposterous.”
“[The U.S.]… insists that it will have dialogue only for making the DPRK abandon nuclear weapons and persist in ‘maximum pressure’ until complete denuclearization is realized. This is really more than ridiculous,” a statement from the Foreign Ministry yesterday read.
The South Korean delegation is only in Pyongyang for one night after flying into the city on a special flight this afternoon. They will return to Seoul on Tuesday, then fly to the United States to brief their American counterparts on the outcome of their meetings with the North.