A 10-member South Korean delegation met face-to-face with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on March 5, 2018 for the first time in history — and the talks could set the tone for later US engagement.
The meeting, which took place in Pyongyang, reportedly involved an elegant reception and banquet for the visiting diplomats, who will stay in what a representative of the South Korean president’s office told NK News was a “luxury resort” on the Taedong River.
“The North Korean side has been preparing a lot for warmly welcoming the South Korean delegation,” the representative said. North Korea is known to go all out when hosting foreign diplomats.
But while the South Koreans may have found a warm reception, the delegation’s leader promised they would talk about the most difficult topic at hand and most likely the elephant in the room: North Korea’s nuclear arsenal and ambitions.
Chung Eui-yong, the chief of South Korea’s National Security Office, told reporters at a briefing that, “more than anything,” the diplomats would “clearly deliver” South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s “firm will to achieve the denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula and create sincere and permanent peace.”
North Korea has consistently said its possession of nuclear weapons is non-negotiable; it’s even written into the country’s constitution. The US and South Korea maintain that their goal in engaging with North Korea is denuclearization and that any mutual talks must seek that end.
Since the Pyeongchang Olympics in South Korea, North Korea has been much more open to inter-Korean talks, with Kim even inviting Moon to Pyongyang to become the first head of state to meet him in person.
Moon has not yet accepted the invitation, and US President Donald Trump has said talks must happen only “under the right conditions.”
But North Korea may be feeling pressure to engage diplomatically with the US and South Korea, as a new wave of sanctions and an aggressive policy by the Trump administration of policing North Korea’s exports threaten to hamstring the country’s economy.
Additionally, the US and South Korea are expected to return to normal military exercises in mid-March 2018 after the Paralympic Games; such exercises serve as a major irritant to North Korea, which often responds with missile tests. Experts calculate that Pyongyang still needs several tests to ensure the functionality of its latest intercontinental ballistic missile systems.