North Korean leader Kim Jong Un (front L) and South Korean President Moon Jae-in (front R) review honour guards during a welcoming ceremony at Pyongyang airport  yesterday. - AFP
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un (front L) and South Korean President Moon Jae-in (front R) review honour guards during a welcoming ceremony at Pyongyang airport yesterday. - AFP

NORTH KOREA: South Korean President Moon Jae-in began his historic three-day visit to North Korea yesterday during which he will seek to achieve a breakthrough in faltering nuclear talks between Pyongyang and Washington.

Moon received a grand welcome ceremony led by Kim Jong Un, his wife Ri Sol Ju and several senior North Korean officials.

Live footage of the welcome ceremony showed hundreds of North Koreans cheering and waving national flags and flags showing a unified peninsula at the Sunan airport.

The two leaders shook hands and hugged each other after Moon’s plane touched down at around 10 am local time.

Following Tuesday morning’s welcome ceremony and lunch, the leaders of the two Koreas held their first summit talks, their third since their historic first meeting at the truce village of Panmumjom in April. This is the first inter-Korean summit in North Korean capital Pyongyang in 11 years.

The Presidential plane carrying Moon and his entourage landed at the airport via the Yellow Sea direct flight route.

According to officials and watchers, Moon and Kim are expected to get together seven or eight times during Moon’s three-day stay in the North, including for two rounds of summit talks, a welcome dinner, luncheon and art performances. Moon and his delegation are expected to stay at the Paekhwawon State Guest House, reported Yonhap news agency.

South Korean Kpop singers Zico and Ailee, composer Kim Hyung-suk and magician Choi Hyun-woo will participate in the art performances, along with North Korea’s Samjiyon Orchestra and singers.

The South Korean President was expected to catch the “Brilliant Fatherland” mass gymnastics performance unveiled by the North to mark its 70th founding anniversary following the summit talks or art performances.

Kim may join Moon at the May Day Stadium to watch the performance on Wednesday, The North Korean leader and China’s special presidential envoy Li Zhanshu watched the performance on Sept 9.

On Wednesday, Moon and Kim are also expected to unveil a joint statement, and a separate military pact designed to defuse tensions and prevent armed clashes, Moon’s chief of staff Im Jong-seok said in Seoul on Monday.

Moon and his entourage are expected to have lunch at the Okryugwan Restaurant, which is famous for Pyongyang-style cold noodles, or naengmyon in Korean, and visit major facilities and landmarks in Pyongyang in the afternoon.

Moon may visit Pyongyang’s landmark areas, like the Mirae (Future) Scientists Street or Ryomyong New Town, and industrial and tourism facilities. The construction of Mirae Scientists Street and Ryomyong New Town, full of high-rise buildings, began in the early 2010s.

Samsung Electronics Vice Chairman Lee Jae-yong and other South Korean business leaders who accompanied Moon on the visit are expected to meet the North’s Deputy Prime Minister Ri Ryong Nam.

The second inter-Korean leaders’ summit was held in Pyongyang in 2007 when the South Korean leader Roh Moo-hyun travelled via an overland route to the North Korean capital to meet Kim’s father Kim Jong Il.

The first ever inter-Korean summit was held in 2000 between then-South Korean President Kim Dae-jung and Kim Jong Il.

The on-going inter-Korean summit, the third between Moon and Kim since their first meeting in April, will be a litmus test for another meeting Kim has recently proposed to US President Donald Trump, giving clues to whether Kim is serious about denuclearisation, a commitment he made at the historic Trump-Kim summit held in Singapore in June.

Trump has asked Moon to be “chief negotiator” between himself and Kim, according to Moon’s aides, after Trump cancelled a trip to Pyongyang by his secretary of state Mike Pompeo last month.

Washington wants to see concrete signs of denuclearisation by North Korea before agreeing to a key goal of Pyongyang - declaring an end to the 1950-53 Korean War.

“I’d like to have frank dialogue with Chairman Kim on how to find a point of contact between US demands for denuclearisation and North Korea’s demands for ending hostile relations and security guarantees,” Moon told a meeting with senior secretaries on Monday.

Underscoring the challenges ahead, North Korea’s official Rodong Sinmun said on Tuesday “the responsibility falls squarely on the United States” for the stalled nuclear discussions.

“It is due to its nonsensical, irrational stubbornness that other issues can only be discussed after our country has completely verifiably, irreversibly dismantled our nuclear capabilities... without showing the intention to build trust including declaring the end of war,” the newspaper said in an editorial.

Moon is hoping to engineer a proposal that combines a concrete framework for the North’s denuclearisation and a joint declaration ending the Korean War, Seoul officials said.

The war ended with an armistice, not a peace treaty, leaving US-led UN forces including South Korea technically still at war with the North.

But US officials remain “unenthusiastic” about declaring an end to the war without any substantial action toward denuclearisation from the North, Seoul officials said.

South Korea is pinning high hopes on Kim’s remarks to Moon’s special envoys earlier this month that he wants to achieve denuclearisation within Trump’s first term in office ending in early 2021, the first time line he has given.

Agreeing on a timetable is a core task for Moon, as it would induce US action, said Lee Jung-chul, a professor at Soongsil University in Seoul.



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