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Are inter-Korean relations back on track?

A glimmer of hope for the revival of inter-Korean diplomacy has emerged as international events have opened possibilities for engagement to break a monthslong impasse.

With North Korea confirming that it will host South Korea next month for the World Cup qualifier in Pyongyang as planned, Seoul’s Unification Ministry said Wednesday that it will consider sending a squad to the North.


North Korea's leader Kim Jong-un (left) is pictured shaking hands with South Korea's President Moon Jae-in during the Inter-Korean summit in the Peace House building on the southern side of the truce village of Panmunjom, April 27, 2018. (KCNA)
North Korea's leader Kim Jong-un (left) is pictured shaking hands with South Korea's President Moon Jae-in during the Inter-Korean summit in the Peace House building on the southern side of the truce village of Panmunjom, April 27, 2018. (KCNA)


On Tuesday, the Korea Football Association in Seoul said it had been informed by the Asian Football Confederation that North Korea will host the Group H match in the second round of the Asian qualification for the 2022 FIFA World Cup as scheduled for Oct. 15.

“With regard to the World Cup qualifier in Pyongyang itself, the KFA and other relevant agencies will hold discussions on details going forward, but the issue of sending a cheering squad requires consultations between the two Koreas,” Lee Sang-min, Unification Ministry spokesperson, said in a regular press briefing.

The North had kept mum on the KFA’s request for details on transportation, logistics and other administrative matters amid growing concerns that relations between the two Koreas have fizzled out after the no-deal Hanoi summit between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in February.

Another possibility for inter-Korean engagement that the South is banking on is a commemorative summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations that will be held in late November in the South’s southeastern port city of Busan.

At the National Assembly Intelligence Committee session on Tuesday, chief of the National Intelligence Service Suh Hoon said the North Korean leader may join the gathering of the leaders of the 10 member states of ASEAN and South Korea “if Washington and Pyongyang make progress in their denuclearization talks.”

Whether Kim will visit Busan has been drawing keen attention. President Moon Jae-in voiced hopes that Kim would take part in the event in an interview with the Bangkok Post in August.

Kim agreed to visit Seoul at an early date when Moon flew to Pyongyang for his third summit with the North Korean leader in September 2018. The pledge has yet to materialize.

Cheong Wa Dae believes that President Moon’s speech at a United Nations General Assembly session and a summit with the US president in New York this week have helped resume the peace and denuclearization process of the Korean Peninsula.

Following the summit, the presidential office said the two leaders “reaffirmed their commitment to transform their relations with North Korea to end hostilities that have lasted for nearly 70 years and to establish a lasting peace regime on the Korean Peninsula,”

It is reportedly taking a sanguine view on the possibility of the North Korean leader visiting Busan in November.

Participation in a sports event and multilateral diplomatic meetings should be regarded separately, according to Koh Yu-hwan, a professor of North Korean Studies at Dongguk University.

“It would be unprecedented for the North’s regime to participate in a multilateral diplomatic event. It will be possible when there’s a policy shift (in the North) showing its commitment to become a member of the international community and a normal state,” Koh said.

He added that chances are slim that Kim will travel to the South before he holds a third summit with Trump.

Working-level talks between Washington and Pyongyang are expected to take place in late September or early October. No date or location has been set.

By Park Han-na (hnpark@heraldcorp.com)
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