North and South Korea agreed Saturday to hold high-level talks next week to prepare for a summit between their two leaders, according to the South’s presidential office.
The meeting, which will be held Thursday in the border village of Panmunjom, is the first concrete step toward talks between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in since the two sides agreed to the plan earlier this month.
The North said it will send a three-member delegation led by Ri Son Gwon, chairman of its agency that deals with inter-Korean affairs, the statement said.
Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon will lead South Korea’s team at the meeting.
The South Korean government “will put its utmost efforts in preparing for the inter-Korean summit through the high-level talks,” it said.
Kim told visiting South Korean officials that he would meet with Moon in late April as the rival nations moved to improve relations amid rising tensions over the North’s nuclear weapons program. But there had been no official word from Pyongyang.
It would be only the third inter-Korean summit as the countries remain technically at war after their 1950-53 conflict ended in an armistice instead of a peace treaty.
President Donald Trump later agreed to a summit with the North Korean leader by May to discuss denuclearization efforts.
Moon and Kim are widely expected to have the U.S.-North Korean summit, which would be a first, high on the agenda as well.
The diplomatic gains, which began with the North agreeing to participate in the Olympics, come after a chaotic year.
The North test-fired three intercontinental ballistic missiles and conducted its sixth and most powerful nuclear test, moving toward its goal of developing a nuclear weapon that could target the U.S. mainland.
Trump also traded threats and personal insults with Kim, calling him “little rocket man” and at one point threatening to “totally destroy North Korea” I needed to defend the United States and its allies.
Many North Korea watchers also expressed concern Friday that Trump’s appointment of the hawkish former U.N. ambassador John Bolton to replace H.R. McMaster as national security adviser could jeopardize peace efforts.
A senior South Korean presidential official dismissed the worries, saying that “what’s important is President Trump’s will.”
“While serving as undersecretary of state, Bolton gained a great deal of knowledge about Korean Peninsula issues, and most of all, he is an adviser trusted by President Trump,” the official was quoted as saying by the Yonhap News Agency.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity in line with office rules, also downplayed Bolton’s past record of hard-line statements about the North.
“What’s important is not what intentions (Bolton) has as an individual, but how the entire U.S. government and President Trump will try to resolve this issue,” the official said.
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