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South Korea plans to send special envoy to Pyongyang

South Korea’s president intends to send a special envoy to North Korea in a bid to extend the dialogue between the rivals that began during the Olympics and eased tensions on the divided peninsula.

Moon Jae-in informed President Donald Trump about the plan in a telephone conversation late Thursday as he briefed the U.S. leader about the inter-Korean talks that took place on the sidelines of the Feb. 9-25 Winter Games, according to his office.

The White House didn’t mention the envoy in its readout of the call, saying only that Trump thanked Moon for his hospitality to the U.S. high-level delegations that attended the opening and closing ceremonies.

“President Trump and President Moon noted their firm position that any dialogue with North Korea must be conducted with the explicit and unwavering goal of complete, verifiable, and irreversible denuclearization,” it added. “The two leaders committed to maintain close coordination.”

North Korea’s agreement to participate in the Olympics and the March 8-18 Paralympics was a major diplomatic victory for Moon, who has made engagement with the North a key goal of his administration.

But it also has threatened to create a rift between Washington and Seoul, despite insistence by the longtime allies that they are working in close coordination.

Earlier this week, Moon called on the United States “to lower the threshold for talks with North Korea” while adding that “North Korea should show it is willing to denuclearize.”

“It’s important that the United States and North Korea sit down together quickly,” he said, according to a statement from his office.

The communist state sent Kim Jong Un’s sister, Kim Yo Jong, to the opening ceremony. She also held talks with Moon and delivered an invitation from her brother to hold a summit in Pyongyang.

The South Korean leader has not agreed to the summit, telling the North it must create the conditions for such a breakthrough meeting to occur and that it must actively engage with the United States.

Trump expressed a willingness to talk to the North but “only under the right conditions.” He didn’t elaborate, but his spokeswoman, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, later reiterated that denuclearization was the end goal.

The sports diplomacy followed months of saber rattling in which Trump and the North traded threats and the U.S. insisted that military action was on the table, raising fears of a new conflict.

North Korea has made rapid progress in its efforts to develop a nuclear weapon that could target the U.S. mainland. It test-fired dozens of missiles, including three ICBMs, and conducted its sixth and most powerful nuclear test last year.

Critics have accused it of using the Olympics to conduct a “charm offensive” aimed at loosening increasing economic sanctions and diplomatic pressure against it.

Stars and Stripes reporter Yoo Kyong Chang contributed to this report.


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