PANMUNJOM — South Korea and North Korea kicked off high-level talks today to discuss details about preparations for an inter-Korean summit slated for late April.
Top officials from both sides met at the Tongilgak building on the northern side of the border truce village Panmunjom to discuss the date and agenda for the summit, according to pool reports.
The meeting comes as South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un plan to hold a summit in April at Panmunjom after more than a year of tensions sparked by the North’s nuclear and missile programmes.
Kim made a surprise visit to China earlier this week for his first talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping. The move came ahead of summits with Moon and US President Donald Trump in the coming months.
His trip to Beijing was seen as aimed at securing more bargaining chips ahead of his meeting with Trump, which will take place by May.
For China, the summit highlighted Beijing’s leverage over the North in resolving the North’s nuclear standoff.
The two Koreas are likely to set the date for the summit during Thursday’s talks, South Korea’s presidential office Cheong Wa Dae said.
A presidential official said that both sides will likely discuss agenda items and working-level contacts needed to prepare for the summit.
The upcoming inter-Korean summit will likely serve as a critical venue for discussions to resolve the North’s nuclear issue.
The North’s leader expressed his commitment to giving up nuclear weapons during his meeting with Xi, adding that its denuclearisation hinges on Seoul and Washington taking "progressive and synchronous measures," according to China’s Xinhua News Agency.
Trump agreed to meet with Kim after South Korean envoys who met with the North’s leader in early March relayed Kim’s expression of his commitment to denuclearisation.
"The issue of (North Korea’s) denuclearisation has been the most important agenda item. ... That’s the issue that we will focus on for discussion," Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon, the South’s chief delegate for today’s talks, told reporters before leaving for Panmunjom.
North Korea’s diplomatic outreach came after the country’s advancement of its nuclear and missile programmes heightened tensions last year, putting it under tougher international sanctions.
The North conducted its sixth and most powerful nuclear test in September last year. It also launched three intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) last year, which analysts say are capable of reaching the US mainland.
Kim and Trump exchanged personal insults and bellicose rhetoric, raising fears about war on the divided peninsula.
But in a surprise move, the North extended a rare olive branch to Seoul in January, as Kim expressed his willingness to send athletes to the PyeongChang Winter Olympics held in the South last month.
The US is carrying out its campaign for "maximum pressure" to make the North abandon its nuclear arsenal and bring it to the negotiation table.
Trump announced the replacement of a lineup of the top diplomat and national security adviser with hardliners on North Korea ahead of his expected summit with Kim.
Washington has vowed to keep up its pressure campaign until the repressive regime takes sincere steps toward denuclearisation. — YONHAP