At High-Level Talks, Rival Koreas Set Date for Summit

(VOA): South Korean officials say North Korean leader Kim Jong Un will meet South Korean President Moon Jae-in at a border village April 27.

The third summit ever between the Koreas could prove significant in the global diplomatic push to resolve the standoff over the North's nuclear program.

The announcement was made after a high-level meeting Thursday between the countries at the border village of Panmunjom. Few other details were released.

The Koreas will hold another preparatory meeting April 4 to discuss protocol, security and media coverage issues.

Seoul's Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon, one of the three South Korean participants, told reporters before their talks that setting up discussions between the leaders on ways to rid the North of its nuclear weapons would be a critical point. He said there could be several such preparatory meetings. The North's three delegates were led by Ri Son Gwon, chairman of a state agency that deals with inter-Korean affairs.

The South's delegation arrived in Panmunjom after their vehicles crossed the heavily guarded border near the southern city of Paju.

Greeting the South Korean officials at the North Korea-controlled Tongilgak building, Ri said that the past 80 days have been filled with “unprecedented historic events” between the rivals, referring to the Koreas resuming dialogue before the Winter Olympics in the South and the agreement on the summit. He expressed hopes for an outcome that would meet the “hope and desire of the nation.”

Cho, in response, said officials in the preparatory talks should do their best to set up a successful summit as the “current situation was created by decisions from the highest leaders of the North and South.”

The talks follow a surprise meeting this week between Kim and Chinese President Xi Jinping, which appeared to be aimed at improving both countries' positions ahead of Kim's planned meetings with Moon and President Donald Trump.

In setting up separate talks with Beijing, Seoul, Washington, and potentially with Moscow and Tokyo, North Korea may be moving to disrupt any united front among its negotiating counterparts. By reintroducing China, which is the North's only major ally, as a major player, North Korea also gains leverage against South Korea and the United States, analysts say.

In his talks with Xi, Kim may have discussed economic cooperation with China or requested a softening of enforcement of sanctions over the North's nukes and missiles. North Korea also wants Beijing to resist tougher sanctions if the talks with Washington and Seoul fall apart and the North starts testing missiles again.

​Chinese State Councilor Yang Jiechi arrived in Seoul on Thursday for a two-day trip to brief South Korean officials on the results of the talks between Kim and Xi. Yang is expected to meet Seoul's presidential national security director Chung Eui-yong on Thursday before meeting President Moon on Friday. Moon's spokesman Kim Eui-kyeom in a statement said Seoul welcomes the meeting between Kim and Trump and that it was an encouraging sign that Kim expressed firm willingness for dialogue with South Korea and the United States during his visit to Beijing.

North Korea has yet to officially confirm its interest in a summit between Kim and Trump. In its coverage of the Kim-Xi meeting, the North's state media didn't carry Kim's reported comments opening dialogue with the United States that were carried in Chinese state media.

The leaders of the two Koreas have held talks only twice since the 1950-53 Korean War, in 2000 and 2007, under previous liberal governments in Seoul.

It's unclear whether the leaders' meetings between Seoul, Pyongyang and Washington, if they take place, could lead to any meaningful breakthrough.

The North's diplomatic outreach comes after an unusually provocative year where it conducted its most powerful nuclear test to date and three intercontinental ballistic missiles designed to target the U.S. mainland. The change in tactics could be an attempt to ease pressure from heavy sanctions and improve its economy.

(This story has not been edited by N24 staff and is Voice Of America auto-generated from a RSS feed)

Published Date: Thursday, March 29th, 2018 | 12:45 PM

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