“As the president stated, (the dates are) open whether it’s this year or early next year. The important thing is the North’s decision,” President Moon Jae-in’s senior press secretary Yoon Young-chan said.
|Groups calling for end to North Korean sanctions hold up cutouts of President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un at the National Assembly on Nov. 28. Yonhap|
Earlier in the day, a local daily reported that Seoul had suggested arranging a visit between Dec. 18 and 20 for North Korean leader Kim. The report claimed the suggested dates were chosen to avoid the anniversary of the death of Kim Jong-il, the current leader’s father and former North Korean leader. The elder Kim died on Dec. 17, 2011.
The National Intelligence Service corroborated Cheong Wa Dae’s statement in a briefing to the National Assembly’s Intelligence Committee. According to Rep. Lee Hag-jae, chief of the committee, the NIS said the visit is undecided as the trip is linked to US-North Korea talks.
Moon and Kim agreed the latter would visit Seoul “in the near future” in the Pyongyang Declaration -- the inter-Korean agreement reached during Moon’s trip to Pyongyang in September.
At the time, Moon explained the phrase “in the near future” meant within the year unless circumstances to prevent the visit arise.
According to reports citing unnamed sources, Kim is said to have agreed to the visit despite strong opposition from his aides at Moon’s insistent request.
While the trip remains undecided, Moon’s recent comments have sparked speculations. During his trip from Argentina to New Zealand on Sunday, Moon said the possibility of Kim visiting Seoul within the year “remains open.”
Following his summit meeting with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern of New Zealand, Moon said the dates are secondary to what is achieved during Kim’s visit to Seoul.
Moon also revealed that US President Donald Trump welcomed the idea of Kim visiting Seoul during the Seoul-Washington summit held in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Saturday. According to Moon, he and Trump agreed that Kim’s visit to Seoul would be a positive development for denuclearization talks.
Despite such assurances from the government, conservatives have taken issue with the plans, accusing the Moon administration of concentrating only on improving inter-Korean relations.
There are, however, some in the conservative bloc calling for Kim to visit -- for reasons different to those of the Moon administration.
Speaking at a forum at the National Assembly on Wednesday, former North Korean diplomat Thae Yong-ho said Kim’s visit to Seoul is of vital importance.
“(The trip) should not be linked to denuclearization, but (be) used as a learning experience (for Kim) regarding South Korea’s liberal democracy,” Thae said. Since resettling in South Korea in 2016, Thae has spoken out against the North Korean regime.
He went on to say that Kim should witness different groups welcoming and opposing his visit to realize that North Korea’s dictatorship has no future.
By Choi He-suk (firstname.lastname@example.org)