Moon goes North to push stalled Korean nuclear talks

South Korean President Moon Jae-in, second from left, and his wife Kim Jung-sook, left, are greeted by Kim Jong Un and his wife, Ri Sol Ju(Courtesy).
Tens of thousands of North Koreans chanted “Unification!” and waved flowers as their leader Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in paraded through Pyongyang on Tuesday, ahead of a summit aimed at rekindling stalled nuclear diplomacy.

Kim greeted Moon with hugs and smiles as the South Korean leader arrived in the North’s capital to revive momentum in the faltering talks between Washington and Pyongyang over denuclearization and the prospect of officially ending the Korean War.

A massive welcome ceremony at Pyongyang International Airport featured a large, goose-stepping honor guard and a military band.

Afterwards, the two leaders traveled in a black Mercedes limousine with open-top rear seats to the Paekhwawon State Guest House, where Moon will stay during his three-day visit.

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Kim and Moon briefly stepped out of the vehicle to greet and take flowers from people in the crowds who waved flags and shouted “Motherland! Unification!”.

Clean streets and high rise buildings were seen as the motorcade passed Ryomyong Street, a new residential district launched last year under Kim’s initiative to modernize the city.

Kim and Moon will hold formal talks from 3:30 pm to 5 pm (0630 to 0800 GMT), Moon’s office said.

The inter-Korean summit, the third between Moon and Kim, will be a litmus test for another meeting Kim has recently proposed to U.S. President Donald Trump.

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

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South Korean President Moon Jae-in is greeted by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un during an official welcome ceremony at Pyongyang Sunan International Airport, in Pyongyang, North Korea, September 18, 2018. Pyeongyang Press Corps/Pool via REUTERS

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

“If North Korea-U.S. dialogue is restarted after this visit, it would have much significance in itself,” Moon said before his departure.

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.

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Moon, himself the offspring of a family displaced by the war, has met Kim twice this year at the border village of Panmunjom.

Traveling with him are South Korean business tycoons, including Samsung scion Jay Y. Lee and the chiefs of SK Group and LG Group. They will meet with North Korean Deputy Prime Minister Ri Ryong Nam, who is in charge of economic affairs.

On Wednesday, Moon and Kim plan to hold a second round of officials talks after which they are expected to unveil a joint statement, and a separate military pact designed to defuse tensions and prevent armed clashes. Moon will return home early Thursday.

This week’s summit comes as the United States presses other countries to strictly observe U.N. sanctions aimed at choking off funding for Pyongyang’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs.

North Korea says it has destroyed its main nuclear and missile engine test site, and has halted atomic and ballistic missile tests but U.S. officials and analysts believe it is continuing to work on its weapons plans covertly.

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U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley accused Russia on Monday of “cheating” on U.N. sanctions on North Korea.

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

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

But U.S. officials remain “unenthusiastic” about declaring an end to the war without any substantial action toward denuclearization 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 denuclearization within Trump’s first term in office ending in early 2021.

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

“Given U.S. scepticism that South Korea may have oversold Kim’s willingness to denuclearize, how President Moon delivers his sincerity toward denuclearization to Trump would be a key factor for the fate of their second summit,” Lee told a forum on Monday in Seoul.

Nuclear talksKoreasouth korean president moon jaenorth korea's kim jong-un