Rival Korean leaders to meet at historic summit in April

Rival Korean leaders to meet at historic summit in April
South Korean Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon, left, poses with North Korean delegation head Ri Son Gwon for photographers before their meeting at the northern side of the Panmunjom, North Korea.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and South Korean president Moon Jae-in are to meet on April 27.

The announcement today came after officials from the two countries held talks in the border village of Panmunjom and agreed on a rare summit that could prove significant in global efforts to resolve the decades-long stand-off over the North's nuclear programme.

The Koreas plan to hold another preparatory meeting on April 4 to discuss protocol, security and media coverage issues, according to a joint statement.

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. The Korean Peninsula was divided in 1945 into a US-dominated south and Soviet-backed north.

Seoul's Unification Minister, Cho Myoung-gyon, one of three South Korean participants in Thursday's talks, told reporters that setting up discussions between the leaders on ways to rid the North of its nuclear weapons would be a critical point.

The North's three delegates were led by Ri Son Gwon, chairman of a state agency that deals with inter-Korean affairs.

Earlier this month, the two countries agreed to hold a summit on the southern side of the border village. Thursday's talks were held to determine the date and other issues.

The countries also agreed to hold a separate meeting to discuss communication issues and maintain working-level discussions through document exchanges, according to the statement.

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, Mr Ri said 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",

In response, Mr Cho 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 followed a surprise meeting this week between Mr Kim and Chinese President Xi Jinping, which appeared to be aimed at improving both countries' positions ahead of the North Korean leader's planned meetings with Mr Moon and US 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 US, analysts say.

In his talks with Mr Xi, Mr Kim may have discussed economic co-operation with China or requested a softening of enforcement of sanctions over the North's nuclear weapons. 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 Councillor Yang Jiechi is spending two days in Seoul briefing South Korean officials on the results of the talks between Mr Kim and Mr Xi.

Mr Yang is expected to meet Seoul's presidential national security director Chung Eui-yong on Thursday before meeting President Moon on Friday.

Mr Moon's spokesman, Kim Eui-kyeom, said Seoul welcomes the meeting between Mr Kim and Mr Trump and called it an encouraging sign that the North Korean leader expressed a firm willingness for dialogue with South Korea and the US during his visit to Beijing.

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 American mainland. The change in tactics could be an attempt to ease pressure from heavy sanctions and improve its economy.

- PA

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