SEOUL, Korea, Republic Of — North Korean leader Kim Jong Un held an “openhearted talk” with envoys for South Korean President Moon Jae-in on Monday, the North said Tuesday, the first time South Korean officials have met with the young North Korean leader in person since he took power after his dictator father’s death in late 2011.
North Korea’s state media said in a dispatch that Kim expressed his desire to “write a new history of national reunification” during a dinner the night before.
Given past bloodshed, North Korean weapons tests and threats of war over the past year, there is considerable skepticism over the Koreas’ apparent warming ties. But each new development also raises the possibility that the rivals can use the momentum from the good feelings created during North Korea’s participation in the South’s Pyeongchang Winter Olympics last month to ease a standoff over North Korea’s nuclear ambitions and restart talks between Pyongyang and Washington.
The North Korean dispatch sought to make Kim look statesmanlike as he welcomed the visiting South Koreans, with Kim offering views on “activating the versatile dialogue, contact, co-operation and exchange.” He was also said to have given “important instruction to the relevant field to rapidly take practical steps for” a summit with Moon.
Kim was said to have “repeatedly clarified that it is our consistent and principled stand and his firm will to vigorously advance the north-south relations and write a new history of national reunification by the concerted efforts of our nation to be proud of in the world.”
The role of a confident leader welcoming visiting, and lower-ranking, officials from the rival South is one Kim clearly relishes. He took photos with the South Koreans and held forth in what was described as a “co-patriotic and sincere atmosphere.” But many in the South and in the United States will want to know what he plans do about the barrage of weapons tests over the last year that has raised fears of war.
The North has said repeatedly that it won’t give up its nuclear bombs as it pursues an arsenal that can viably target the U.S. mainland. It also hates the annual U.S.-South Korean war games that were postponed because of the Olympics but will likely happen later this spring.
The 10-member South Korean delegation is led by Moon’s national security director, Chung Eui-yong.
Chung’s trip is the first known high-level visit by South Korean officials to the North in about a decade.