Top South Korean envoy in Pyongyang for talks on breaking nuclear deadlock

South Korean special envoys led by the chief of the national security office at Seoul's presidential Blue House, Mr Chung Eui-yong (second from right), leave for Pyongyang from an airport in Sungnam city, South Korea, on Sept 5, 2018.
South Korean special envoys led by the chief of the national security office at Seoul's presidential Blue House, Mr Chung Eui-yong (second from right), leave for Pyongyang from an airport in Sungnam city, South Korea, on Sept 5, 2018.PHOTO: REUTERS

SEOUL (AFP, REUTERS) - A high-level South Korean delegation held talks with officials in the North on Wednesday (Sept 5), seeking to arrange a third inter-Korean summit this year and break the deadlock in denuclearisation talks.

President Moon Jae-in's special envoy, Mr Chung Eui-yong, who is leading the five-member delegation, has said he plans to discuss ways to "completely denuclearise" the Korean peninsula and establish "lasting peace".

The envoys were greeted in Pyongyang by Mr Ri Son Gwon, chairman of a North Korean committee in charge of cross-border affairs, who has steered high-level inter-Korean talks, according to Blue House press secretary Yoon Young-chan.

They held a 20-minute meeting with Mr Ri and Mr Kim Yong Chol, who played a key role with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in arranging the Singapore summit, Mr Yoon said without elaborating.

Additional talks are expected to take place between the Seoul and Pyongyang officials, but it was not certain that the envoys would meet North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, Mr Yoon said. Mr Kim met the South’s delegation on their previous trip in March.

“The delegation was on the way for an official meeting but they did not inform whom they’ll meet and where,” Mr Yoon said in a statement.

United States President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un reached a vague agreement at a landmark summit in June to work towards the denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula, but there has been little movement since.

Talks reached an impasse last month when Mr Trump abruptly cancelled Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's trip to North Korea, citing a lack of progress.

The stated aim of the South Korean delegation's day-long visit to Pyongyang is to finalise details of a third summit between the leaders of the two Koreas, due later this month.

But observers said that Mr Chung, who has said he will deliver a personal letter from Mr Moon to Mr Kim, was thought to be carrying a proposal aimed at breaking the denuclearisation impasse.

 
 

"The envoy is believed to be carrying a proposal that Kim gives a firm commitment to presenting a list of nuclear weapons and fissile materials demanded by the US in return for a declaration of the end of the Korean war," Professor Yang Moo-jin of the University of North Korean Studies told AFP.

Despite the deadlock with the North, Mr Trump expressed his hopes for the success of the next inter-Korean summit in a phone conversation with Mr Moon on Tuesday.

Pyongyang has slammed Washington's "gangster-like" demands for complete, verifiable and irreversible disarmament, and accused it of failing to reciprocate the North's "goodwill measures", including the handover of the remains of US troops killed in the 1950-53 Korean War.

When Mr Kim and Mr Moon met in April for their first summit, they agreed to push for a declaration from Washington of an end to the Korean War, to replace the 1953 armistice.

But US officials say the North must be rid of its nuclear weapons before that can happen.

The International Atomic Energy Agency reported last month that there is no indication North Korea has stopped its nuclear activities.