Kim Yo-jong, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s sister who identified herself as a special envoy to the South, personally delivered her brother’s invitation to Pyongyang to South Korean President Moon Jae-in. She told Moon that they would like to see him at an “early date,” as she handed the message at a luncheon hosted by Moon on Saturday.
Moon in response gave conditional agreement, stressing that a certain environment needs to be created for a summit and asking Pyongyang to resume dialogue with the United States, the Blue House said.
|President Moon Jae-in shakes hands with North Korea's Kim Yo-jong at Cheong Wa Dae. (Yonhap)|
A Cheong Wa Dae official said Moon “practically accepted” the invitation, but has yet to announce details on relevant measures.
“Sending a special envoy to the North will be a step toward finding out Kim Jong-un’s true intentions behind the current overture,” said Koh Yoo-hwan, a professor of North Korean studies at Dongguk University.
“It would also be a way to maintain the current momentum in inter-Korean relations because Kim Yo-jong was viewed as the North’s special envoy to the South and responding in a similar manner would help continue a long-term exchange,” added Koh.
Another Seoul-based expert said the decision to send a special envoy before holding the summit would help set up a table for dialogue between the US and North Korea, which is the main agenda of the Moon administration.
“North Korea has been adamant that denuclearization is an issue between themselves and the US. Sending a special envoy will help pave a smoother road towards reviving Washington-Pyongyang talks,” said Shin Beom-chul, a professor at the Korea National Diplomatic Academy.
Shin said Seoul must consider its role in the international community with ties to both the US and North Korea and must “look beyond the summit in order to hold the summit.”
“South Korea must take on the role as a mediator between the US and North Korea and help the US-North Korea talks to take shape soon,” he said.
Washington has pursued a strategy of exerting maximum pressure on Pyongyang through tough sanctions, demanding it halt its nuclear weapons program for any dialogue to occur.
North Korea, on the other hand, has reiterated on several occasions it has no plans to abandon its nuclear weapons program.
US Vice President Mike Pence reaffirmed the campaign of maximum pressure against the North during his recent visit here as head of the US Olympic delegation. However, in an interview with the Washington Post on Sunday, he said he is also willing to sit down and talk with Pyongyang, “while that pressure campaign is ongoing.”
Cheong Wa Dae has yet to reveal any timeframe for its follow-up plans, but Shin said that in order to maintain the current momentum, the envoy will have to be dispatched before the upcoming regular joint military drill. Shin alluded to the possibility that the exercise may sour the Olympic detente, as North Korea views such drills as dress rehearsal for invasion.
The allies are reported to be planning to conduct their annual joint exercises -- Key Resolve and Foal Eagle -- in April after the springtime drills were delayed until after the February-March Olympics and Paralympics.
“The Winter Paralympics starts a week after the wrap-up of the (Feb. 9-22) Olympics and Seoul could use the gap between the two events as the time to send its envoy,” said Shin.
However, Cheong Wa Dae on Monday denied media reports that it has plans to send an envoy during that week, hinting it is still debating the date.
Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon, who greeted the North Korean officials upon their arrival at Incheon International Airport and hosted a dinner for them, is a strong candidate. Cho told the delegation as they were leaving for home on Sunday that the “farewell is only temporary” and he will try to “meet with them again,” while bringing up the option of visiting Pyongyang.
A Unification Ministry official said Monday that the North Korean high-level delegation’s visit laid a foundation for a peaceful resolution of the issues surrounding the Korean Peninsula, but noted that the key to the follow-up measure depends on US-North Korea dialogue.
If an inter-Korean summit is held, it will mark the third of its kind and first under the Kim Jong-un regime. There were previously two such landmark meetings -- the first held between late South Korean President Kim Dae-jung and North Korean leader Kim Jong-il in 2000, and the second between President Roh Moo-hyun and Kim Jong-il in 2007.
By Jung Min-kyung (firstname.lastname@example.org)