Kim Jong Un invites South Korean President Moon to summit in Pyongyang

South Korean President Moon Jae-in arrives to meet a North Korean delegation at the presidential house in Seoul, South Korea. Photo: AP/PTI
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un invited South Korean President Moon Jae-in to meet in Pyongyang, a dramatic gesture that may raise prospects for easing tensions on the Korean Peninsula.


The invitation was verbally delivered by Kim’s sister, Kim Yo Jong, during a Saturday meeting at Moon’s presidential compound in Seoul a day after the opening ceremony for the Winter Olympics in South Korea. A Moon-Kim summit would mark the first time leaders of two countries have met in 11 years.


Moon’s office provided conflicting accounts of whether he would go to Pyongyang. A Blue House official initially said the president had accepted Kim’s offer, but that was later denied by chief spokesman Yoon Young-chan.


“What the president said exactly is let’s create the right circumstances to make it happen,” Yoon said in a statement. “And we hope you take the comment as it is.”


Shin Jee-yeon, another official in Moon’s office, later told reporters: “We should read more into it that there are preconditions that should be met rather than calling it a conditional acceptance.” A dialogue between North Korea and the US is among actions that would improve the atmosphere for a meeting, Yonhap reported, citing an unidentified Blue House official.


While a summit in Pyongyang would signal warming ties on the peninsula, it also risks driving a wedge in the alliance between the US and South Korea. President Donald Trump has sought to maximise pressure on North Korea to convince Kim to give up his nuclear weapons, and his administration hasn’t ruled out a preemptive attack.


Pence reaction


Moon sought to reassure US Vice President Mike Pence that the allies remained in lockstep despite North Korea’s joint appearance at the Olympics. On Friday, Pence said there was “no daylight” between the allies in pushing for denuclearisation of the peninsula.


Yet in a statement responding to Kim’s invitation to Moon, Pence’s office didn’t even mention the potential summit.


“The Vice President is grateful that President Moon reaffirmed his strong commitment to the global maximum pressure campaign and for his support for continued sanctions,” press secretary Alyssa Farah said.


At the lunch meeting, Moon gave a toast to Inter-Korean peace and prosperity. “The entire world is watching us here today and expectations on both Koreas are high,” Moon said.


Unification mentioned


Kim Yo Jong told Moon that relations would improve quickly once he meets with her brother. “I hope President Moon will take the leading role to open a new chapter for unification and accomplish a legacy that will be remembered for long.”


Leaders of the two nations have only meet twice since the peninsula was divided in 1948. They are technically still at war.


The last summit was held in October 2007 between Roh Moo-hyun and Kim Jong Il, the father of the current North Korean leader. The pair signed a peace declaration calling to end the armistice with a permanent treaty, but progress stalled and the two sides remain in a stalemate.


The first summit was in June 2000 between Kim Dae-jung, a proponent of the so-called Sunshine Policy, and Kim Jong Il. This led to family reunions until ties soured under conservative President Lee Myung-bak.


Saturday’s lunch at the Blue House, as Moon’s presidential compound is known in Korea, came shortly after Moon and Kim Jong Un’s sister enthusiastically cheered on a unified Korean team as they walked around a stadium in Pyeongchang.


Kim Yo Jong, who is representing her brother at the Games, shook hands with Moon and stood with a smile on her face as Korean athletes marched together under a joint flag. She’s the first family member of the Kim dynasty to set foot in the south.


Believed to be in her late 20s, Kim Yo Jong shares the same mother as the North Korean leader and is seen as controlling access to him. Analysts were expecting the sister to deliver a message to Moon, as any move toward a summit is likely to help maintain a temporary break in tensions on the peninsula after a year of missile and nuclear provocations.


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