SEOUL - In a rare move, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has formally invited South Korean President Moon Jae In to Pyongyang for a summit at the "earliest date" possible.
The invitation was personally delivered on Saturday (Feb 10) by Mr Kim's younger sister Yo Jong, who visited Seoul as a special envoy of the North Korean leader. She arrived Friday with a high-level North Korean delegation to attend the opening of the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics.
Ms Kim is the first of the ruling Kim family to set foot in the South, after the two countries were separated following the 1950-53 Korean War.
Mr Moon was quoted by South Korea's presidential spokesman as saying the two countries should "create the necessary conditions (for a summit) and make it happen".
If the inter-Korean summit takes place, it will be the third between the leaders of the two countries, and the first since 2007.
Ms Kim presented the invitation during a three-hour luncheon at South Korea's presidential Blue House on Saturday, where guests were served kimchi from both sides, soju from southern island Jeju, grilled fish, dried pollack soup, and walnut cookies. The North Korean delegation is headed by the country's ceremonial leader Kim Yong Nam.
At a press briefing after the luncheon, Mr Moon's spokesman said that Ms Kim delivered 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 at a time convenient to him, and at the earliest date possible.
Mr Moon, who hopes the Olympics can create an opportunity for broader talks on North Korea's nuclear issue, urged the North Korean delegation to seek dialogue with the US as well.
He said an early resumption of dialogue is necessary for the development of inter-Korean ties, according to his spokesman.
But North Korea appears to be sticking to its anti-American stance. State papers have denounced US Vice-President Mike Pence, who avoided direct contact with Mr Kim Yong Nam during a dinner reception hosted by Mr Moon on Friday, for using the Olympics to "escalate confrontations against North Korea".
Mr Pence, in a media interview Friday, said that the US is fully prepared to defend its allies South Korea and Japan, and will continue to exert diplomatic and economic pressure on North Korea while "preserving all of our military options".
North Korea has also insisted that it is not "begging" for dialogue with the US.
Mr Moon is determined to improve inter-Korean ties, even at the risk of jeopardising relations with the US and Japan.
It was revealed on Saturday 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.
An official from Mr Moon's office said Mr Abe had told the South Korean leader during a bilateral summit held Friday that now is not the right time to delay US-South Korea joint exercises. Mr Abe had also emphasised the need to get North Korea to show real change in behaviour.
Mr Moon acknowledged Mr Abe's concern but said it constitutes a violation of South Korea's sovereignty and an "intervention in our domestic affairs", the official was quoted as saying.