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Kim welcomes South’s Moon in Pyongyang for denuclearisation talks

AFP, Pyongyang Press Corps | North Korean leader Kim Jong Un (left) guides South Korean President Moon Jae-in (right) during a welcoming ceremony at Pyongyang airport on September 18, 2018.
6 min

South Korean President Moon Jae-in arrived in North Korea Tuesday for his third and possibly most challenging summit yet with leader Kim Jong-un in which he hopes to break an impasse in talks with the United States over the North’s denuclearisation.


In what are by now familiar images of the two Korean leaders hugging and exchanging warm smiles, Kim greeted Moon at Pyongyang’s airport. They have met twice this year at the border village of Panmunjom, but Moon’s visit is the first by a South Korean leader to the North Korean capital in 11 years.

The two leaders drove together through the streets of Pyongyang past thousands of cheering citizens before opening a summit where the South Korean president will seek to reboot stalled denuclearisation talks between his hosts and the United States.

"I am acutely aware of the weight that we bear," Moon told Kim as they opened two hours of formal talks at the headquarters of the ruling Workers' Party, adding that he felt a "heavy responsibility".

At a banquet after the first day of the summit, Moon said the "complete denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula and the establishment of peace" were priorities. The South Korean leader said there would be challenges ahead but that he and Kim had "trust and friendship".

Kim hailed his relationship with Moon, and said the pair would discuss "various issues [...] in a frank and open-minded manner".

'Exposing the Koreas to each other'

Traveling with Moon are business tycoons including Samsung scion Lee Jae-yong, underscoring Moon’s hopes to expand cross-border business projects. Currently, all major joint projects between the Koreas are stalled because of US-led sanctions.

Bruce Harrison, FRANCE 24’s correspondent in Seoul, said that by visiting Pyongyang, “Moon Is trying to place an emphasis on exposing the Koreas to each other and exposing South Koreans more to visuals of North Koreans [by] meeting with these corporate leaders to try to create a greater sense of peace, cooperation and understanding between the two sides.”

correspondent on koreas summit

But, Harrison added, “There are some things that won’t go discussed at this summit. Number one: human rights.”

The denuclearisation of the North will remain Moon’s priority throughout the two-day talks, Harrison noted.

“President Moon is now seen as a mediator between the United States and North Korea,” Harrison said, adding that after speaking to one of Moon’s top advisers last week, he got the impression that economic incentives could potentially play a role in breaking the current stalemate on Pyongyang’s denuclearisation.

“That’s maybe why Moon is bringing this massive delegation of business leaders,” he said.

Anti-US propaganda

The North's unique brand of choreographed mass adulation was on full display upon Moon's arrival as hundreds of people waved North Korean flags and another depicting an undivided peninsula -- while the South's own emblem was only visible on the president's Boeing 747 aircraft.

Thousands of people, holding bouquets and chanting in unison "Reunification of the country!", lined the streets as Kim and Moon rode through the city in an open-topped vehicle, passing the Kumsusan Palace where Kim's predecessors -- his father and grandfather -- lie in state.

Heralding Moon's arrival on Tuesday, the North’s main newspaper said the United States was responsible for the lack of progress in denuclearisation talks.

“The US is totally to blame for the deadlocked DPRK-US negotiations,” the Rodong Sinmun said in an editorial. It said Washington is “stubbornly insisting” the North dismantle its nuclear weapons first, an approach “which was rejected in the past DPRK-US dialogues”, while failing to show its will for confidence-building “including the declaration of the end of war which it had already pledged”.

Moon is under intense pressure from Washington to advance the denuclearisation process. Before his departure he said he intends to push for “irreversible, permanent peace” and for better dialogue between Pyongyang and Washington.

“This summit would be very meaningful if it yielded a resumption of North Korea-US talks,” Moon said Tuesday morning just before his departure. “It’s very important for South and North Korea to meet frequently, and we are turning to a phase where we can meet anytime we want.”

But his chief of staff tried to lower expectations of major progress on the future of Kim’s nuclear arsenal.

Strong ties between Beijing and Pyongyang

Kim, meanwhile, is seemingly riding a wave of success.

The North just completed an elaborate celebration replete with a military parade and huge rallies across the country to mark North Korea’s 70th anniversary. China, signaling its support for Kim’s recent diplomatic moves, sent its third-highest party official to those festivities. That’s important because China is the North’s biggest economic partner and is an important political counterbalance to the United States.

North Korea maintains that it has developed its nuclear weapons to the point that it can now defend itself against a potential US attack, and can now shift its focus to economic development and improved ties with the South. While signaling his willingness to talk with Washington, Kim’s strategy has been to try to elbow the US away from Seoul so that the two Koreas can take the lead in deciding how to bring peace and stability to their peninsula.

Talks between the United States and North Korea, which Moon brokered through his April and May summits with Kim, have stalled since Kim’s meeting with President Donald Trump in Singapore in June.

North Korea has taken some steps, like dismantling its nuclear and rocket-engine testing sites, but US officials have said it must take more serious disarmament steps before receiving outside concessions. Trump has indicated he may be open to holding another summit to resuscitate the talks, however.

To keep expectations from getting too high, Moon’s chief of staff, Im Jong-seok, said it’s “difficult to have any optimistic outlook” for progress on denuclearisation during the summit.

But he said he still expects the summit to produce meaningful agreements that “fundamentally remove the danger of armed clashes and ease fears of war” between the two Koreas.

South Korea last week opened a liaison office in the North’s city of Kaesong, near the Demilitarised Zone. Another possible area of progress could be on a formal agreement ending the Korean War, which was halted in 1953 by what was intended to be a temporary armistice. Military officials have discussed possibly disarming a jointly controlled area at the Koreas’ shared border village, removing front-line guard posts and halting hostile acts along their sea boundary.

Moon is the third South Korean leader to visit North Korea’s capital for summits. Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun went to Pyongyang in 2000 and 2007 respectively to meet Kim’s father, Kim Jong Il. Those trips produced a slew of inter-Korean rapprochement projects, which were suspended after conservatives took power in Seoul.

(FRANCE 24 with AP)

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