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North Korean delegation returns

The North Korean delegation led by Kim Yong-chol returned to the North on Tuesday, after repeatedly stating Pyongyang’s willingness to talk with the US.

Ahead of the departure, the North Koreans met with South Korean officials including Minister of Unification Cho Myoung-gyon and National Intelligence Service chief Suh Hoon.

According to the Unification Ministry, the two sides agreed to cooperate in improving inter-Korean relations and to establish peace on the Korean Peninsula.

Once back in the North, Kim Yong-chol is expected to brief North Korean leader Kim Jong-un on his visit, as did Kim Yo-jong after her visit. 

This photo, taken Feb. 25, 2018, shows Kim Yong-chol (C), a top North Korean party official in charge of inter-Korean affairs, visiting South Korea. (Yonhap)
This photo, taken Feb. 25, 2018, shows Kim Yong-chol (C), a top North Korean party official in charge of inter-Korean affairs, visiting South Korea. (Yonhap)

Kim Yo-jong, Kim Jong-un’s younger sister, had come to the South for the PyeongChang Olympics’ opening ceremony as her brother’s special envoy. The younger Kim briefed the North Korean leader on Feb. 12, the day after her return.

During his stay, Kim Yong-chol met with President Moon Jae-in on Sunday, and stated that Pyongyang has “sufficient intent” to talk with the US.

The former North Korean spymaster, who is suspected of masterminding a deadly attack on a South Korean Navy ship in 2010, is said to have set no preconditions for such talks.

According to Cheong Wa Dae, Moon raised the issue of denuclearization during the closed-door meeting. The South Korean president is said to have mentioned a plan for denuclearization. Although Cheong Wa Dae did not elaborate on the plan Moon raised, he has in the past raised the possibility of a two-step approach that begins with Pyongyang freezing its nuclear program.

Although denuclearization is an issue the North refuses to discuss, Kim Yong-chol is said to have listened to Moon without raising objections.

In a meeting with China’s Vice Premier Liu Yandong on Monday, Moon stated that the US should also lower its conditions for talks with North Korea.

“The US needs to lower its bar for dialogue and the North, too, must show its willingness to denuclearize,” Moon said at the meeting, during which he requested China’s support in facilitating US-North Korea dialogue.

The US, for its part, appears unaffected by Pyongyang’s overture.

Speaking at a meeting with US governors at the White House on Monday, US President Donald Trump once again reiterated his administration’s position on North Korea, saying talks would occur “only under the right conditions.”

“The US has been consistent in its position, which is that possibility of dialogue is open but that North Korea must first take steps toward denuclearization,” said Cha Du-hyeogn, a visiting research fellow at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies.

Although the North has not yet set conditions for meeting with the US, it has been widely speculated that Pyongyang may raise its list of often-repeated demands in its dealings with Seoul.

Demands North Korea has made in the past include the cessation of South Korea-US joint military drills, which Pyongyang claims are rehearsals for an invasion by Seoul and its allies.

South Korea and the US have postponed two major exercises -- Foal Eagle and Key Resolve -- for the duration of the Olympics and Paralympics Games. New dates for the exercises have yet to be announced, but US Forces Korea commander Gen. Vincent Brooks has made it clear that the drills will resume.

By Choi He-suk (cheesuk@heraldcorp.com)
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