A South Korean government delegation flew to North Korea on Thursday, October 4 for a joint celebration of the anniversary of a 2007 summit and to possibly hold further peace talks. Seoul’s Unification Minister Cho Myoung-Gyon said before departing that the visit will be an opportunity to strengthen “reconciliation, cooperation, and peace” between the rivals.
Apart from government officials, the delegation includes lawmakers, civic and religious leaders and the son of the late South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun, who participated in the 2007 summit with North Korea’s then-leader Kim Jong Il, the late father of current ruler Kim Jong Un.
The visit comes as U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo prepares to make his fourth visit to Pyongyang on Sunday, October 7 with the aim of setting up a second summit between President Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un.
Kim and Trump met in Singapore in June 2018 where they issued vague aspirations for a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula without saying when and how it would occur. Follow-up talks between the countries stalled, with Pyongyang accusing Washington of making “unilateral and gangster-like” demands on denuclearization. This left Seoul lobbying hard for the second summit between Trump and Kim to keep alive a positive atmosphere for nuclear diplomacy.
Pompeo said on Wednesday, October 3 that he’s optimistic he’ll come away with a plan for the second summit between Trump and Kim and progress on a “pathway for denuclearization.” However, he distanced himself from an earlier stated goal of getting North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons by the end of Trump’s four-year term in January 2021.
During his three-day visit to Pyongyang, Cho plans to meet with Ri Son Gwon, chairman of the North Korean agency that handles inter-Korean affairs, to discuss how to carry out the agreements made between Kim and South Korean President Moon Jae-in at a summit in Pyongyang last month. That was Kim and Moon’s third meeting this year as they work to resolve the standoff following a torrid run of North Korean nuclear and missile tests.
The South Korean delegates will also tour major North Korean facilities and attend a performance of the North’s iconic mass games. It’s unclear whether they will meet Kim before returning home on Saturday, October 7.
During their Pyongyang summit, Kim and Moon said they’d agreed to reduce the conventional military threat between them and hold another summit in Seoul, potentially within the year. The North said it would allow outside experts to observe the dismantling of a missile engine test site and a rocket launch pad and might dismantle its main Nyongbyon nuclear complex if the United States takes corresponding measures.
Cho told South Korean lawmakers on Monday that North Korea is estimated to have 20 to 60 nuclear weapons, in Seoul’s first public comment about the size of the North’s secrecy-enshrouded weapons arsenal. North Korea’s state media on Tuesday issued a commentary urging Washington to lift sanctions if it wants further progress in their stalled nuclear talks.