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Koreas meet to hammer out details for upcoming summit

The two Koreas held working-level talks on Wednesday in an effort to finalize preparations for the upcoming summit between their leaders next week.

The talks kicked off 10 a.m. sharp at the Joint Security Area of the truce village of Panmunjeom near the border, which will also serve as a venue for the summit between South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un slated for next Friday. It lasted for nearly five hours without any breaks, according to the South’s presidential Cheong Wa Dae. 

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un (right) and his wife Ri Sol-ju watch South Korean musicians perform in Pyongyang on April 1. (KCNA-Yonhap)
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un (right) and his wife Ri Sol-ju watch South Korean musicians perform in Pyongyang on April 1. (KCNA-Yonhap)

Wednesday’s meeting is largely viewed as a follow-up to the talks held earlier this month on protocols, security measures, and media coverage related to the summit.

The scope of media coverage was expected to be a key agenda item at the meeting, as Cheong Wa Dae chief of staff Im Jong-seok said Seoul is considering a live broadcast of the inter-Korean summit.

As of Wednesday, nearly 2,000 journalists from 168 local news outlets have registered for the inter-Korean summit, along with 858 from 180 foreign news outlets, Cheong Wa Dae said in a press release. The number is more than twice as high as those that covered the two previous inter-Korean summits held 2000 and 2007, it noted.

Another focus was likely to be on whether Kim Jong-un’s wife Ri Sol-ju will accompany Kim on his cross-border trip. Im said although it was difficult to confirm the matter, Seoul was anticipating a visit. Experts said that Ri may cross the border alongside Kim -- with her new status as the “revered first lady” -- as part of North Korea’s plan to convey the nation as a normal state.

“Whether Kim will cross the Military Demarcation Line alone or with his spouse, along with matters related to cross-border transportation, is extremely important -- those are the details that should be negotiated before media coverage,” said Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies, adding that there is a high possibility Kim will cross the line on foot to highlight the symbolism of the upcoming summit.

According to Cheong Wa Dae, a separate high-level meeting is likely to take place by the end of the week, but Im also raised the possibility of another Pyongyang visit by Moon’s special envoys ahead of the summit. The envoys, including National Security Council chief Chung Eui-yong and National Intelligence Service chief Suh Hoon talked with Kim last month in Pyongyang, where the North Korean leader expressed his willingness to hold an inter-Korean summit and put denuclearization on the table with the United States.

Coupled with the North’s nuclear weapons program, bringing about a permanent peace to the Korean Peninsula by formally ending the 1950-53 Korean War is forecast to be a top issue at the remaining preparation talks and eventually the inter-Korean summit. The two Koreas technically remain at war as the civil war ended with an armistice, not a peace treaty.

Cheong Wa Dae said it was seeking to establish a peace treaty on the Korean Peninsula at the upcoming summit.

The South’s Ministry of Unification echoed the presidential office by reminiscing the spirit of the previous summit.

“The two Koreas discussed the issue of ending the armistice at a summit in October 2007,” Baik Tae-hyun, Seoul’s Unification Ministry spokesman, told a press briefing. “The government is making efforts to declare an end to the war and establish a permanent peace regime.”

Hours earlier, US President Donald Trump extended his “blessing” to the Koreas, noting that both sides appear to be discussing a peace treaty to formally end the war when their leaders meet for next Friday’s summit.

The Moon-Kim meeting is set to be followed by a Trump-Kim summit, which would be the first sit-down between a US president and a North Korean leader.

Trump has said his meeting with Kim will likely take place “probably in early June or a little before that.”

By Jung Min-kyung (mkjung@heraldcorp.com)

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