Kim Jong Un could become the first North Korean leader in history to enter South Korea in just over four weeks, when he steps across the heavily fortified border for a summit with President Moon Jae-in.
The April 27 meeting on the southern side of the demilitarized zone will be the first between leaders of the two nations in 11 years. Leaders of the two nations — which are still technically at war — have only met twice since the peninsula was divided in 1948.
Next month’s summit — a precursor to a potential meeting between Kim and U.S. President Donald Trump — is the culmination of diplomatic efforts after North Korea fired a flurry of missiles last year. Kim got the ball rolling with a call for talks in a New Year’s Day speech, which led to his nation’s participation in the Pyeongchang Olympics and a series of meetingS between the two Koreas.
“As the date for the inter-Korean summit is finalized now, we will do our best to be fully prepared for it during the given time,” Moon’s spokesman, Kim Eui-kyeom, said in a text message. “We hope all South Koreans will be united in making a groundbreaking turning point for peace settlement on the Korean Peninsula at the summit.”
The question now is whether the summit can lay the groundwork for a successful Trump-Kim meeting and a return to multi-nation talks on the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. The North Korean leader paid a surprise visit to Beijing this week to meet Chinese President Xi Jinping, with China saying Kim expressed an openness to discussions over his nation’s nuclear program.
Trump welcomed the meeting between Kim and Xi, while calling for continued pressure against the isolated regime. “Maximum sanctions and pressure must be maintained at all cost!” Trump said.
Trump has also threatened military action to prevent Kim from obtaining the ability to achieve its stated goal of being capable of striking the continental U.S. with a nuclear weapon.
Earlier Thursday, Moon’s office released a statement praising China’s participation in discussions to help stabilize the situation on the peninsula. “We expect the upcoming inter-Korean and U.S.-North Korea summits to provide a clear turning point for eternal denuclearization and a peace system on the Korean Peninsula,” spokesman Kim said.
Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono told parliament that his nation would consider holding talks with North Korea in the context of the other summits taking place. The Asahi newspaper said earlier that Kim Jong Un’s administration was seeking a summit with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. The yen weakened to a two-week low against the dollar after the report.
The last inter-Korean summit was held in October 2007 between then President Roh Moo-hyun and Kim Jong Il, the father of the current North Korean leader. The pair signed a peace declaration calling to end the armistice with a permanent treaty, but progress stalled and the two sides remain in a stalemate.
The first summit was in June 2000 between the elder Kim and South Korean President Kim Dae-jung, a proponent of the so-called Sunshine Policy. The meeting led to family reunions until ties soured under conservative President Lee Myung-bak.
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