Over wine and soju, North Korea's Kim Jong Un joked about himself, say South Korea officials

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un talks to the South Korean delegation, who travelled as envoys of the South's President Moon Jae In, during a dinner in Pyongyang on March 5, 2018.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un talks to the South Korean delegation, who travelled as envoys of the South's President Moon Jae In, during a dinner in Pyongyang on March 5, 2018. PHOTO: AFP

SEOUL (REUTERS) - North Korea's Kim Jong Un joked about his image in international media while serving South Korean officials local spirits and cold noodles during their unprecedented visit to Pyongyang this week, two South Korean government sources said.

During the meeting, Mr Kim committed to giving up his nuclear weapons and told the South Korea officials he would like to meet US President Donald Trump, delegation leader Chung Eui Yong told reporters at the White House on Thursday (March 9) - a potentially dramatic breakthrough in nuclear tensions with Pyongyang.

During their meetings, Mr Kim made light-hearted remarks about how he is viewed outside North Korea in international media and elsewhere, one Blue House official said. The officials who spoke asked to remain unnamed due to the sensitivity of the issue.

Mr Kim, repeatedly derided as "Little Rocket Man" by Mr Trump, was "very aware" of his image, the official said, and reacted to comments made about him in a "relaxed" manner by joking about himself from time to time.

South Korean officials say Mr Trump and Mr Kim now plan to meet by the end of May, in what would be the first ever meeting between a sitting US President and a North Korean leader.

Tensions rose to their highest in years in 2017 following a battery of missile tests by North Korea, before a detente championed by South Korean President Moon Jae In during his country's hosting of the Winter Olympics began to bear fruit.

The Trump administration has warned all options are on the table, including military ones, in dealing with Pyongyang, which has pursued its weapons programmes in defiance of ever tougher UN sanctions.

 
 

When the South Korean officials visited, no hard feelings were displayed and Mr Kim Jong Un was the first to tackle sensitive topics, including the resumption of a military exercise between South Korea and the United States that was postponed for a peaceful Winter Olympics, the Blue House official said.

"This is when we knew the efforts of North and South Korea taken after the Moon Jae In administration began had paid off," said one participant of the North Korea visit.

Mr Kim's administration had also taken note of what North Korean foods the South Korean officials had mentioned while his sister Kim Yo Jong was visiting Seoul for the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics.

The delegation was served North Korean hotpot the first day and cold noodles - another regional specialty - the next, the Blue House official said.

Mr Kim and the officials shared several bottles of wine, liquor made of ginseng and Pyongyang soju, the official said.

"The bottles kept coming," said another administrative source who had official knowledge of the meeting.

The South Korean visitors to Pyongyang did not see one-on-one trackers that usually follow visitors in the North and were free to move about on the premises of the hotel, the first official added.

At the dinner on the first night, South Korean officials were able to observe the relationship between Kim and his wife, Ri Sol Ju, said the second administrative source.

The source said Mr Kim did not come across as overbearing, describing the spouses as appearing "equal".

"They seemed to be quite close to one another and he didn't seem like one of your conservative husbands."