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Dagyum Ji is a senior NK News correspondent based in Seoul. She previously worked for Reuters TV.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in a morning meeting with South Korean President Moon Jae-in on Friday made a rare mention of defectors, an official read-out of the talks and a Blue House official confirmed to NK News.
In comments conveyed to press by senior presidential secretary for public relations Yoon Young-chan, Kim – who arrived in the South this morning for a historic summit with Moon Jae-in, made mention of “displaced people, defectors, and residents of the island of Yeonpyeong.”
Discussing why he believed it was better than Friday’s summit was held in Panmunjom rather than Pyongyang, the location originally proposed by the North, the DPRK leader said he believed meeting across the MDL was more symbolic.
“I thought that I could meet President Moon in Pyongyang, but it is better to have a meeting here,” Kim Jong Un was quoted as having said. “Many people are watching with expectation [because we] are holding it at a place representing confrontation.”
“On my way to here, I watched displaced people, defectors and residents of the island of Yeonpyeong who are anxious about the [potential] bombardment from the North Korean army also have expectations on our meeting today,” he added.
“We should value this opportunity so that the wound between the two Koreas can be healed. The borderline is not high, it will be eventually erased if a large number of people pass over.”
A reference to defectors from the North Korean leader is notable: those attempt to flee the DPRK are often harshly punished if they are repatriated, and high-profile escapees are typically subject to graphic invective by state media.
But Kim Jong Un’s rule has also seen Pyongyang attempt to highlight the phenomena of so-called “redefections”: North Koreans who are said to have voluntarily returned to the North after experiencing life in the South.
One of the most high-profile of these has been the case of Jon Hye Song, a former star of defector-themed TV programs in the South, who dramatically reappeared on DPRK state media last year describing her “painful” life in the ROK.
Jon, who was known as Lim Ji-hyun in the South, reportedly defected in January 2014 and returned to the DPRK in June 2017.
“As we have a lot of good discussions, it will be a gift for the North and South Korean public and people around the world,” Moon said, in comments carried by the Inter-Korean Summit Press Corps.
Kim Jong Un also told pool reports that he had asked Moon to help “put an end to the history of confrontation” and “has confidence that a good future will definitely come.”
Speaking at a news conference following the morning session of the summit, presidential secretary Yoon said President Moon had commented that the morning meeting with Kim had been fruitful.
The North Korean leader also proposed that he and Moon hold meetings “on a frequent basis” to resolve pending issues between Pyongyang and Seoul and expressed his desire to visit the Presidential office.
Moon asked Kim to visit the Blue House to show the full-scale traditional guards expressing regrets over the informal inspection of the guards at the opening ceremony due the limitation of the venue.
“If the President invites me, I will visit the Blue House at any time,” Kim responded.
While discussing a painting of Mount Paektu which hangs in the Peace House, Moon said he would like to visit the mountain by traveling through the North.
“What I am honestly concerned about is that our defective transportation may give President Moon inconvenience if he visits,” Kim Jong Un reportedly told Moon, adding North Korean officials who visited the South in February had commented on the luxury of the KTX high-speed rail system.
Kim promised to renovate the DPRK’s transportation to guarantee a convenient trip for President Moon, who replied that the two Koreas could use a “high-speed railroad” if their networks were connected in the near-future.
Speaking at a second briefing on the morning session, spokesperson Yoon said the two leaders held a “sincere and honest conversation” for 100 minutes from 1015 local time.
Kim and Moon reportedly discussed the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula, establishing a permanent peace settlement on the Korean peninsula, and the improvement of the inter-Korean relations.
Both sides agree to continue working-level talks on a joint declaration, Yoon told media, who also confirmed that DPRK First Lady Ri Sol Ju will arrive at 1815 KST in Panmunjom to attend the banquet.
South Korean First Lady Kim Jung-sook is also scheduled to attend.
Edited by Oliver Hotham
Featured image: Inter-Korean Summit Press Corps