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S. Korea's Moon seeks nuclear agreement with Kim at summit

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Seoul (AFP)

South Korean President Moon Jae-in and the North's leader Kim Jong Un opened a new round of talks at a summit in Pyongyang on Wednesday with the North Korean nuclear arsenal high on the agenda, but Seoul warned they may not reach an agreement.

Moon is on a three-day trip to the North Korean capital for his third summit with Kim this year, hoping to reboot stalled denuclearisation talks between his hosts and the United States.

After the high symbolism of the two leaders' first meeting in April in the Demilitarized Zone that divides the Korean peninsula, and Kim's historic summit with US President Donald Trump in Singapore in June, pressure is mounting for substantive progress.

In Singapore, Kim declared his backing for denuclearisation of the peninsula, but no details were agreed and Washington and Pyongyang have since sparred over what that means and how it will be achieved.

Washington is pressing for the North's "final, fully verified denuclearisation", while Pyongyang wants a formal declaration that the 1950-53 Korean War is over and has condemned "gangster-like" demands for it to give up its weapons unilaterally.

Asked if any deal on denuclearisation had been struck, Moon's spokesman Yoon Young-chan said: "It's difficult to say at this moment that the two leaders have reached any agreement."

They had "frank and sincere" discussions after Moon arrived in Pyongyang on Tuesday, Yoon told reporters in Seoul, adding: "They still need a lot more talks."

"If and when" they reach an agreement, they would announce it jointly but not take questions, he said.

Wednesday's talks took place at the Paekhwawon official guesthouse on the outskirts of Pyongyang. The two leaders were shown on television walking down a long corridor talking together, followed by their wives, before entering a room where the cameras could not follow.

The summit was taking place in a "festive mood", the South's Joongang Daily said in an editorial, but warned that "Moon and his entourage must not forget why he is visiting Pyongyang:.

"Unlike the past, the success of the summit cannot be evaluated by the theatrics. The only standard is whether it contributes to creating a nuclear-free Korean peninsula. It must provide a breakthrough to revive stalled US-North Korea talks," it said.

- Mass applause -

The Rodong Sinmun newspaper, the mouthpiece of the North's ruling party, gave the summit blanket coverage, with 35 photos over the first four of its six pages.

On the front, the leaders shook hands and hugged each other upon meeting at Pyongyang International Airport, with more inside of them parading together through the streets of the city, enjoying a concert and toasting at a banquet.

Pyongyang has been keen to promote an image of modernity and togetherness, reflected in several aspects of the programme.

On Wednesday evening, Moon and his party will have dinner at the newly-opened Taedonggang fish restaurant on the banks of the eponymous river that flows through Pyongyang.

It stands opposite Mansu hill, where giant statues of Kim's predecessors, his grandfather Kim Il Sung and father Kim Jong Il, look out over the city.

The destination was chosen after Moon expressed interest in dining at a local restaurant with ordinary citizens.

But a retail shop at the complex sells North Korean caviar at $50 for a 50-gramme jar -- a luxury far beyond the reach of most North Koreans.

Afterwards, Moon will attend a performance of the "Mass Games" -- North Korea's spectacular, all-dancing propaganda display.

The show features tens of thousands of performers against an ever-changing backdrop made up of 17,490 children turning the coloured pages of books in sequence to send images rippling across one side of the May Day stadium.

They portray scenes ranging from floral landscapes to portraits of the late Kims, interspersed with slogans including "We can win if we defend socialism" and "Our motherland is the strongest because of the Marshal" -- a reference to the current leader.

The premiere of the latest version of the show, called "The Glorious Country", earlier this month featured video footage of Moon and Kim together at their first summit in Panmunjom.

North Koreans always laud their leaders when they are shown their pictures at cultural events, so the crowd instantly responded, creating the unusual sight of tens of thousands of North Koreans applauding images of the South's president.

Ahead of the summit, a diplomatic source predicted the visit would see "Kim and Moon together receiving the same sort of applause".

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