North, South Korea begin talks before possible Pyongyang summit

SEOUL (Reuters) – North and South Korean officials began high-level negotiations on Monday, with one South Korean newspaper report suggesting the two sides could be planning for a summit in Pyongyang later this month.

FILE PHOTO: South Korean President Moon Jae-in shakes hands with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un during their summit at the truce village of Panmunjom, North Korea, in this handout picture released by North Korea’s Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on May 27, 2018. KCNA/via REUTERS

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in met in April at a truce village along their mutual border and agreed to have another summit in autumn, this time in North Korea’s capital, Pyongyang.

A South Korean delegation led by Minister of Unification Cho Myoung-gyon began the latest round of talks with counterparts led by Ri Son Gwon, chairman of the North’s reunification committee, at the truce village of Panmunjom.

“As the Pyongyang summit of the leaders of North and South Korea is being pursued, I believe that we can give concrete answers to the problems that the people hope and wish for,” Ri said during the talks, according to South Korea’s Unification Ministry.

Citing an unidentified South Korean official, the Kookmin Ilbo newspaper reported earlier on Monday that the next summit could be held as soon as late August.

The schedule had mostly been coordinated with North Korea and the summit would likely be held in Pyongyang, it said.

A spokesman for South Korea’s presidential Blue House said on Sunday officials hoped such details would be decided at Monday’s talks.

“We hope that the timing, venue and the size of the delegation that will visit North Korea will be decided,” Blue House spokesman Kim Eui-kyeom said, declining to comment on specifics.

North Korea’s Kim has a held a flurry of diplomatic summits with the leaders of South Korea, China, and the United States this year.

Moon and Kim also had a surprise meeting at the border in May, making Moon the only South Korean leader to have met a North Korean leader twice. A visit by Moon to Pyongyang would be the first to be held this year in North Korea’s capital.

The North has been heavily sanctioned over its pursuit of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles but Kim and Trump agreed at their landmark summit in Singapore in June to work toward the denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula.

North Korea has denounced U.S.-led efforts to maintain sanctions despite what Pyongyang says are goodwill gestures, including halting its weapons testing and returning the remains of U.S. troops killed in the 1950-1953 Korean War.

U.S. officials familiar with the talks, however, told Reuters that North Korea had yet to agree to a timeline for eliminating its nuclear arsenal or to disclose its size, which U.S. estimates have put at between 30 and 60 warheads.

Reporting by Joyce Lee; Editing by Paul Tait

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