North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has invited South Korean President Moon Jae In to Pyongyang at the earliest possible date, raising hopes of the first bilateral summit between the two neighbours in a decade.
Ms Kim Yo Jong, Mr Kim's younger sister, delivered the invitation at a three-hour meeting yesterday at the presidential Blue House, also attended by the North's ceremonial leader, Mr Kim Yong Nam.
Ms Kim is the first member of North Korea's ruling dynasty to set foot in the South after the two sides separated following the Korean War in the early 1950s.
Mr Moon replied to Ms Kim by calling for efforts "to create the necessary conditions" for such a visit, said a presidential spokesman.
If the meeting takes place, it will be only the third - after meetings in 2000 and 2007 - between the leaders of the two countries since the Korean War. The two sides are still technically at war.
Ms Kim, who arrived in Seoul last Friday to attend the opening of the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, presented Mr Moon with a letter from her brother which stated his willingness to improve inter-Korean ties. She also verbally relayed a message from Mr Kim to invite Mr Moon to visit North Korea during the meeting, which was followed by a lunch, where guests were served kimchi from both sides.
The invitation comes as Pyongyang goes on a charm offensive after raising tensions with a series of nuclear and missile tests in the past two years. It has sent athletes, performers and a high-level delegation to the Winter Olympics.
The slim and fair Ms Kim, believed to be 30 years old, has been in the spotlight since arriving in the South. Yesterday, she joined Mr Kim Yong Nam and Mr Moon to cheer for the joint Korean women's ice hockey team as it played against Switzerland. The Koreans lost 8-0.
Mr Moon, who is hoping the Olympics can create a chance for talks on the nuclear issue, urged the North Koreans to seek dialogue with the US too. He said an early resumption of dialogue is necessary for the development of inter-Korean ties, according to his spokesman.
But North Korea seems to be sticking to its anti-American stance. Its state media has condemned US Vice-President Mike Pence, who avoided direct contact with Mr Kim Yong Nam at a dinner hosted by Mr Moon on Friday. North Korea has also insisted that it is not "begging" for dialogue with the United States.
The liberal Mr Moon is keen to improve inter-Korean ties, even at the risk of jeopardising relations with the US and Japan. It was revealed yesterday that he had dismissed a call from Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to quickly resume annual joint military drills with the US. The drills were delayed to ensure a smooth Olympics.
Analysts welcomed North Korea's invitation, but said Mr Moon should proceed with caution.
Dr Bong Young Shik, of Yonsei University's Institute for North Korean Studies, said the denuclearisation issue "must be part of the equation of the inter-Korean summit".
"Otherwise the summit will not be realised, or if it does, it will be just an empty, superficial meeting," he told The Sunday Times.
He also warned that Seoul's ready acceptance of Pyongyang's overtures could damage its alliance with the US. "You gain some, and you lose some. What's the point of having an inter-Korean summit if it separates the US and South Korea, and North Korea gets off the hook?"
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