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Dagyum Ji is a senior NK News correspondent based in Seoul. She previously worked for Reuters TV.
Five South Korean special envoys began a day of high-level talks with North Korean counterparts in Pyongyang on Wednesday morning.
The special presidential delegation, led by head of the presidential National Security Office (NSO) Chung Eui-yong, will return to the South later today.
They are also bringing a letter from South Korean President Moon Jae-in, and are expected to discuss issues including logistics for an inter-Korean summit later in the month and the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.
The special envoys arrived at Pyongyang’s Sunan International Airport at 0900 local time, the presidential office later confirmed during a regular news briefing.
After their arrival, the South Korean special envoys had a 20-minute conversation with North Korean officials at the 38th floor of the Koryo Hotel, Presidential Senior Secretary for Public Relations Yoon Young-chan said in a written statement.
Yoon said chairman of the DPRK’s Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Country (CPRC) Ri Son Gwon and vice-chairman of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) Kim Yong Chol were present.
Kim Yong Chol left the hotel after the conversation, while the meeting with Ri continued for another 19 minutes.
The South Korean delegation was welcomed at the airport by Ri and officials at the United Front Department of the WPK Central Committee, and greeted by Kim Yong Chol at the Koryo Hotel
The special envoys moved to a venue for an “official meeting” at 1022 local time, Yoon announced, adding they haven’t informed the Blue House of the location and counterparts for dialogue.
Wednesday’s visit is expected to see the two Koreas discuss the specific schedule and agenda for the upcoming third meeting between President Moon and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, Chung said on Tuesday.
Both sides agreed to hold what will be the fifth inter-Korean summit at a high-level inter-Korean meeting at Panmunjom.
The meeting is set to take place in Pyongyang, though no specific date has been announced.
Tuesday saw Chung announce the delegation would discuss ways to improve inter-Korean relations, denuclearization, and creating a peace settlement on the Korean peninsula.
“A variety of measures will also be discussed to advance inter-Korean relations through the implementation of the Panmunjom Declaration to ensure that a concrete agreement will be reached at the September inter-Korean summit,” he told a special briefing.
Measures to achieve permanent peace through “complete denuclearization” will also be discussed, he added, hinting that Seoul would likely be using today’s visit to restore momentum to currently-stalled DPRK-U.S. nuclear negotiations.
Chung said the improvement of inter-Korean relations would be a “very major impetus to expedite the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.”
“If necessary, our view is that we should take the initiative in the process of nuclear negotiations on the Korean peninsula through the improvement of the inter-Korean relations.”
North Korean nuclear threats had in the past been “greatly reduced” and agreements had been made on denuclearization only when the two Koreas maintained amicable relations, he said.
When asked how the South sees the prospects for the two Koreas formerly declaring an end to the Korean War in the near future, Chung said the government sees it is a “very essential process” in pushing forward peace through denuclearization.
The Moon administration will “continuously endeavor” to declare an end to the war within this year, he added.
The special envoys flew to Pyongyang at 0740 local time from Seoul Air Base using a direct route along the western coast of the peninsula.
The composition of Wednesday’s delegation was identical to the one sent in March ahead of the first Moon-Kim summit, when the envoys met North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and other officials.
They then returned to the South, announcing that Kim had said he would be willing to denuclearize in exchange for guarantees of regime security.
Director of the National Intelligence Service (NIS) Suh Hoon, Vice-Minister of Unification Chun Hae-sung, second deputy director of the NIS Kim Sang-gyun, and Director of the Government Situation room at the Blue House Youn Kun-young were included in the delegation.
Ahead of the talks, President Moon on Tuesday convened a diplomatic and security meeting involving the five special envoys as well as key aides, including foreign minister Kang Kyung-wha, unification minister Cho Myoung-gyon, and Presidential Chief of Staff Im Jong-seok.
Later in the day, Moon held a 50-minute phone call from 2100 KST with U.S. President Donald Trump, according to the Blue House.
Presidential spokesperson Kim Eui-keum said Moon had discussed Seoul’s plans for the special envoys, while President Trump asked him to share the results of the visit.
The White House on Tuesday said the South Korean delegation was expected to meet the North Korean leader.
In a statement, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said Moon had told Trump that “he was sending a Special Envoy to Pyongyang tomorrow (September 5) to meet with Chairman Kim, and promised a readout of that meeting.”
Blue House spokesperson Kim, however, said on Wednesday that the South Korean President had not made any specific mention of a meeting between his special envoys and the DPRK leader.
Edited by Oliver Hotham
Featured Image: Blue House