North Korean leader Kim Jong Un visiting South Korea? The South says it could happen

South Korea President Moon Jae-in has been desperate for a breakthrough in North Korean-United States talks in order to revive his signature policy of improving inter-Korean ties. PHOTO: AFP

SEOUL (NYTIMES) - North Korean leader Kim Jong Un could meet again with United States President President Donald Trump and even visit South Korea in November if expected talks between Pyongyang and Washington make progress on eliminating the North's nuclear weapons programme, South Korean intelligence officials told lawmakers on Tuesday (Sept 24).

South Korean officials have been considering inviting Mr Kim to a conference of South-east Asian countries that is planned in Busan, a port city on the south-eastern tip of South Korea, in November.

Neither North Korea nor the US has officially announced the resumption of dialogue.

But after a months-long hiatus, denuclearisation talks between the two countries will most likely take place within "two or three weeks", Mr Kim Min-ki, a governing-party lawmaker, quoted intelligence officials as saying during a closed-door parliamentary hearing on Tuesday in Seoul, the South's capital.

If such talks lead to a breakthrough and Mr Kim Jong Un visits South Korea, it would be the first such trip by a North Korean leader to the South beyond the Demilitarised Zone and could give the party of South Korean President Moon Jae-in a lift ahead of parliamentary elections scheduled for April.

When Mr Kim and Mr Moon met in Pyongyang, the North Korean capital, last September, Mr Kim promised to visit Seoul soon.

But that promise was never fulfilled, as subsequent talks between North Korea and the US stalled over deep differences over how to denuclearise the North, damaging inter-Korean relations.

North Korean officials have also recently indicated that talks with Washington could resume in coming weeks.

If such working-level talks were successful, Mr Trump and the North Korean leader could hold another summit this year, said Mr Kim, the South Korean lawmaker.

Mr Lee Eun-jae, an opposition lawmaker who also attended the parliamentary session with intelligence officials, quoted them as saying that Mr Kim Jong Un also "may come to Busan depending on the result of denuclearisation talks" with Washington.

Mr Moon, the South Korean leader, has been desperate for a breakthrough in North Korean-US talks in order to revive his signature policy of improving inter-Korean ties.

He has been hit hard by a slew of domestic and external problems in recent months, including a slowing economy and a diplomatic row with Japan.

His approval ratings have fallen in recent weeks after damaging revelations in the news media around his appointment of Mr Cho Kuk, one of his former presidential aides, as justice minister.

On Monday, prosecutors raided Mr Cho's home to collect evidence on a flood of allegations of ethical lapses in his family that have dominated newspaper headlines for weeks.

Mr Moon's political stock soared when he met Mr Kim three times last year, helping arrange his summit meetings with Mr Trump in an effort to work out a deal on dismantling the North's nuclear weapons and establishing a lasting peace on the Korean peninsula.

But the enthusiasm for Mr Moon's approach cratered after Mr Kim and Mr Trump abruptly ended their second summit, in Hanoi, Vietnam, in February, without a deal on how fast and thoroughly North Korea should dismantle its nuclear programme.

North Korea has since rejected dialogue with South Korea, dismissing Mr Moon's role as mediator and calling him "officious" and "double-dealing".

Despite such slights, Mr Moon has resumed his efforts to revive diplomacy on the Korean peninsula, meeting on Monday with Mr Trump on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York.

Mr Moon said he hoped that working-level negotiations between the US and North Korea could be held soon to lay the groundwork for another summit between Mr Trump and Mr Kim.

But Mr Trump indicated on Monday that he wanted to know what he could achieve in another meeting with Mr Kim before committing himself to another summit.

"Right now, people would like to see that happen," Mr Trump said on the sidelines of the United Nations meeting. "I want to know what's going to be coming out of it. We can know a lot before the summit takes place."

The mood for resuming dialogue with North Korea has improved since Mr Trump removed his hawkish national security adviser, Mr John Bolton, and indicated that he might try a "new method" in negotiating with North Korea.

Last week, the North's nuclear envoy, Mr Kim Myong Gil, praised Mr Trump's "wise political decision" and said he would like to be "optimistic" about coming talks with Washington.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.