Featured image: Joint Inter-Korean summit press corps
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View more articles by Colin Zwirko
Colin Zwirko is an NK News correspondent based in Seoul.
Updated on Monday 1710 KST: This story has been updated to include comments from President Moon Jae-in
South Korean President Moon Jae-in plans to discuss denuclearization in depth with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un during two days of scheduled meetings this Tuesday and Wednesday, the Blue House chief of staff told reporters on Monday.
In a briefing laying out plans for the upcoming summit, which will run from September 18-20, Presidential Chief of Staff Im Jong-seok said that progress on denuclearization must be made through leader-to-leader discussions.
While the topic had been mostly left to discussions between North Korea and the U.S. in the past, Im said it would “now be a very important central issue” to discuss at the top level and that it would not be possible to resolve merely through working-level talks.
Preempting high expectations for the inclusion of the topic in talks, however, the Blue House chief of staff said later that denuclearization may be described as a “heavy topic weighing on the summit” and that it is therefore “difficult to be optimistic” of results on the matter.
The three most important items on the agenda for the summit, he continued, would be improving inter-Korean relations in accordance with the Panmunjom Declaration, accelerating denuclearization talks with the U.S., and ending inter-Korean military tensions.
On denuclearization, he said the South will do its part to “mediate and accelerate U.S.-DPRK dialogue on denuclearization” and “work for resuming… honest conversation without delay for progress on denuclearization of North Korea and corresponding actions by the U.S.”
Later on Monday, President Moon elaborated on his self-described role as mediator between the North and the U.S., saying in a meeting with his top aides that he plans to hold “candid talks” with Kim Jong Un to “find an intersecting point between the United States’ call for denuclearization steps and the North’s demand for corresponding steps to guarantee its security and end the hostile relationship,” according to Yonhap News Agency.
“I believe the denuclearization issue can move forward at a rapid rate should the dialogue be resumed and the two leaders sit face to face with each other again,” Moon reportedly added.
On improving inter-Korean relations, Im said in the earlier briefing that this week’s summit would build upon the points of the Panmunjom Declaration, and that the two sides will “discuss the specific direction of development going forward.”
The third point, the “cessation of North-South military tensions and the threat of war,” he continued, would be carried out as a continuation of ongoing military talks to “eliminate the possibility of clashes, and completely set out the conditions for peace.”
He added that the two sides will also discuss solutions to the “agony of separated families.”
Answering a question from a reporter, Im denied that the order of the three agenda items were a reflection of the order in which the points would be written in a hypothetical agreement signed at this week’s summit.
He also said it was difficult to predict if a new Panmunjom Declaration-style agreement will emerge from the talks.
President Moon also seemed to play down any chance of additional agreements, saying Monday he believes this was no longer important and that instead, his focus would be “to fundamentally develop inter-Korean relations while implementing inter-Korean agreements that have been signed so far.”
Moon will depart for what will be his third inter-Korean summit from Seoul’s Seongnam Airport (Seoul Air Base) at 0840 on Tuesday and arrive at Pyongyang’s Sunan Airport at 1000 for an official welcoming ceremony, Im said during the briefing.
Seoul is set to send a major delegation to this week’s summit in Pyongyang, which will include key figures from South Korean conglomerates Samsung, Hyundai, SK, and LG.
The welcoming ceremony will be followed by a luncheon, after which Moon and Kim will hold their first official talks.
During that time, Im said, South Korean First Lady Kim Jung-sook will visit a children’s hospital and the Pyongyang University of Music, while a group of special representatives from the South will meet with President of the Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly Kim Yong Nam.
A group of “economic persons” – likely a reference to South Korean company officials – will then meet with vice-premier of the Cabinet Ri Ryong Nam.
A welcoming arts performance and dinner banquet are then scheduled for the end of the first day.
Moon and Kim will then meet Wednesday morning for a second day of talks, after which Im said it may be possible to announce to the press details and outcomes of the talks up to that point.
Lunch on the second day will take place at Okryugwan in central Pyongyang – a restaurant famous for its cold noodles and which provided catering for the two leaders’ first summit.
Details for the final day dinner banquet were not yet available, though Im said President Moon had personally requested it take place at a restaurant popular among Pyongyang residents.
Moon is expected to depart the North Korean capital on Thursday morning.
Both sides are leaving open the possibility of additional talks on Thursday morning that could delay Moon’s departure, Im added, depending on how talks go over the previous two days.
In what the Blue House has described as an unprecedented development, certain events during the multi-day summit will also be broadcast live on television to an international audience.
Im added that discussions over which events would be allowed to be broadcast live were still ongoing as of Monday.
He also said that Kim Jong Un’s schedule remained a secret, and that besides particular summit meetings planned between Moon and Kim, it was not yet clear whether Kim would attend the welcoming event at the airport and other events.
In a separate development Monday, NK News learned that no foreign media outlets will be allowed into the DPRK to cover the three-day summit this week, after having been denied access by the North Korean side.
Edited by Oliver Hotham
Featured image: Joint Inter-Korean summit press corps