World News

North and South Korea to Hold Preparatory Talks for Summit Meeting

Posted March 24, 2018 8:28 a.m. EDT

SEOUL, South Korea — High-ranking officials from North and South Korea will meet on the countries’ border next week to prepare for the inter-Korean summit meeting planned for late next month, the South said on Saturday.

The officials will discuss the agenda for the meeting between President Moon Jae-in of South Korea and Kim Jong Un, the North’s leader, the South’s Unification Ministry said in a statement. That summit meeting, which both sides have agreed to hold in late April, is expected to be followed within weeks by a meeting between Kim and President Donald Trump.

Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon will lead the South’s delegation to the talks next week, which will be held Thursday on the North Korean side of Panmunjom, the so-called truce village that straddles the border. The North’s delegation will be led by Ri Son-kwon, one of the senior North Korean officials who visited the South during the Winter Olympics last month, part of the stage-setting for the current détente between the Koreas after a year of high tension over Pyongyang’s nuclear program.

The North on Saturday accepted the South’s proposal to meet at Panmunjom, the Unification Ministry statement said.

The Koreas agreed earlier this month that their leaders would meet in late April, on the South Korean side of Panmunjom. Soon afterward, Trump surprised much of the world by accepting Kim’s invitation to sit down for talks.

If that meeting indeed takes place, Trump will be the first-ever sitting American president to meet a North Korean leader. The North and the United States are still technically at war, because the Korean War was halted in 1953 with a truce rather than a peace treaty.

Kim’s invitation to Trump was conveyed by South Korean officials who had met with him, and the North’s state-run media has not reported on the pending meeting, or on the one between Kim and Moon. Analysts said Pyongyang’s silence was not surprising and that the leadership might be reluctant to raise its people’s expectations for the meetings too soon.

U.S. officials have been reaching out to the North Koreans in hopes of hearing directly from them about Kim’s intentions, particularly since he was quoted by South Korean envoys as saying he was willing to discuss “denuclearizing” his country.

Officials and analysts remain unsure whether Kim’s offer represents a fundamental shift toward dismantling his nuclear arsenal or a short-term ploy to confuse his enemies, ease sanctions and buy time to further advance his nuclear weapons and intercontinental ballistic missile programs.

The development Saturday came two days after Trump named his new national security adviser, John R. Bolton, a former United Nations ambassador who has been extremely skeptical of the South’s attempts to make peace with the North. The North Korean government once called Bolton “human scum” and vowed not to deal with him.