SEOUL • Reclusive North Korean leader Kim Jong Un hosted a South Korean presidential delegation for dinner in Pyongyang yesterday, the latest surprising development in the thaw between the estranged neighbours aided by the Winter Olympics.
This is the first time the 34-year-old North Korean leader is known to have met with any South Korean officials. He has not met any heads of state - including the presidents of historical allies like China and Russia - since he took over the totalitarian state after his father's death in late 2011.
South Korean President Moon Jae In sent a 10-member delegation to Pyongyang to begin preparations for an inter-Korean summit, the first in 10 years. Mr Kim last month invited Mr Moon to visit Pyongyang, with the invitation hand-delivered by his sister, Ms Kim Yo Jong, when she visited South Korea last month for the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics.
The South Korean delegation, led by National Security Office head Chung Eui Yong, was greeted by North Korean officials after landing in Pyongyang, said Mr Kim Eui Kyeom, a spokesman for South Korea's presidential office.
The North Koreans at the airport included Mr Ri Son Gwon, chairman of the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Country and Mr Kim Yong Chol, who heads the United Front Department, the North Korean office responsible for handling inter-Korean affairs. Both visited South Korea last month during the Winter Olympics.
"We will deliver President Moon Jae In's wish to bring about denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula and permanent peace by extending the goodwill and better inter-Korean relations created by the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics," Mr Chung said in South Korea before the delegation's departure.
"We plan to hold in-depth discussions for ways to continue not only inter-Korean talks but dialogue between North Korea and the international community including the United States," he said.
Mr Chung's team includes National Intelligence Service chief Suh Hoon and Vice-Unification Minister Chun Hae Sung.
Both North Korea and the US have expressed a willingness to talk, but US President Donald Trump demands the North first gives up its nuclear weapons programme, which Pyongyang has vowed never to do.
The delegation is expected to take part in another meeting set for early today, said a South Korean official who declined to be identified. The government hopes the visit will create "a positive atmosphere", Unification Ministry spokesman Baik Tae Hyun told a regular briefing.
North Korea, which has made no secret of its pursuit of a nuclear-tipped missile capable of reaching the mainland US in defiance of United Nations Security Council resolutions, is also concerned about a US-South Korea military exercise, which it sees as preparation for war.
South Korean officials have said the drill will start next month as planned, after being postponed for the Winter Olympics. Mr Chung and Mr Suh are due to fly to Washington later in the week to brief US officials on their discussions in the North.
China said it was "a good thing" that the South Korean delegation had travelled to Pyongyang and "we look forward to a positive outcome of the meeting", Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said.
WASHINGTON POST, REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE