North Korean leader Kim Jong Un told a high-ranking South Korean government delegation that he wants to “write a new history of national reunification,” during an unprecedented meeting between the two sides in Pyongyang Monday.
North Korea’s state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) described the encounter as an “openhearted talk” over issues aimed at “improving the North-South relations and ensuring peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula.”
The Seoul delegation also delivered a personal letter from South Korean President Moon Jae-in to Kim, according to KCNA.
The South Koreans’ trip north marks the latest development in President Moon’s efforts to broker a diplomatic agreement to the crisis brought about by North Korea’s pursuit of nuclear weapons. The visit comes in the wake of the thaw brought about by North Korea’s attendance at the PyeongChang Winter Olympics last month.
The meeting marks a dramatic departure from 2017, when a string of North Korean weapons tests and hostile rhetoric from US President Donald Trump and Kim heightened tensions on the Korean Peninsula.
“Kim Jong Un as a leader has kept himself highly circumscribed. This is not someone who has met with many non-North Koreans in almost six years,” said John Delury, a professor at Yonsei University’s Graduate School of International Relations in Seoul.
The Olympic detente has been an opportunity for the Moon administration to try to prevent an escalation of last year’s tensions.
“There’s a clear determination on Moon’s part not to lose momentum after the Olympics,” said Euan Graham, the director of the international security program at the Lowy Institute, an Australian think tank.
To that end, the South Korean delegation in Pyongyang will “have an in-depth discussion on measures to continue various talks between North Korea and the international community, including the United States,” according to Chung.
“Above all, I will communicate clearly the will and intention of the president, who wants the de-nuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, and create a lasting peace by utilizing the flow of the inter-Korean dialogue,” Chung said.
Another trip north?
Though Chung is officially leading the delegation, the attendance of South Korea’s spy chief, Suh Hoon, could signal that the two sides are laying the groundwork for Moon to eventually meet with Kim in person.
Moon was invited north last month by Kim’s sister, Kim Yo Jong, who also serves as the head of the country’s propaganda department. She was in South Korea last month to attend the Winter Games opening ceremony.
Suh was tapped by Moon to serve as the director of South Korea’s National Intelligence Service. His appointment fueled speculation about a new inter-Korean summit, as Suh helped organize the two inter-Korean summits in the 2000s that saw two consecutive South Korean presidents travel north to meet with Kim Jong Il.
Sending Suh to Pyongyang “suggests they’re already taking about summit preparations,” said Graham.
The delegation is expected to return to Seoul Tuesday and then travel to the United States to brief American officials.