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North and South Korean leaders hold surprise talks at border as Trump signals summit may be back on track

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un shakes hands with South Korean President Moon Jae-in as Kim crossed the border into South Korea. (Korea Broadcasting System/AP)
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In yet another stunning turn of events on the Korean Peninsula in recent days, the leaders of the two Koreas held a second summit, secretly meeting at the truce village of Panmunjom inside the Demilitarized Zone on Saturday, hours after U.S. President Donald Trump signaled talks with the North might still be on.

South Korea’s presidential Blue House said in a statement that President Moon Jae-in met with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un for two hours from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m.

“The two leaders exchanged their opinions candidly to implement the April 27 Panmunjom Declaration and to have a successful North Korea-U.S. summit,” Moon’s chief press secretary Yoon Young-chan was quoted as saying, adding that Moon would announce the results of the discussions Sunday at 10 a.m.

The meeting, held in secret, was the second between Kim and Moon after the landmark summit earlier at Panmunjom that saw the two agree in late April to work to remove all nuclear weapons from the Korean Peninsula and, within the year, pursue talks with the United States to declare an official end to the 1950-1953 Korean War, which ended in an armistice.

While the Blue House was mum on much of the details of the meeting, photos and footage released showed the two leaders embracing each other before parting ways — likely an indication of a successful meeting.

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Moon was accompanied by Suh Hoon, the chief of South Korea’s National Intelligence Service spy agency, while Kim was accompanied by Kim Yong Chol, a vice chairman of the central committee of the ruling Workers’ Party and head of the United Front Department handling inter-Korean relations.

Moon was also seen in photos and video shaking hands with Kim’s sister Kim Yo Jong, who has played a major public role in recent talks with the South, including leading a delegation across the border during February’s Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

Ties between the rival Koreas had chilled in recent weeks, with Pyongyang canceling a high-level meeting with Seoul over South Korea’s participation in joint military exercises with the United States and insisting that it will not return to talks unless its grievances are resolved.

The rare meeting — only the fourth ever between leaders of the two Koreas — came just a day after Trump held out hope Friday that his own summit with Kim could still be held after Trump abruptly pulled out of the meeting scheduled for June 12 in Singapore.

“We are having very productive talks with North Korea about reinstating the Summit which, if it does happen, will likely remain in Singapore on the same date, June 12th., and, if necessary, will be extended beyond that date,” Trump wrote in a tweet late Friday.

The reversal came in the wake of Trump’s withdrawal Thursday in a letter addressed to Kim in which he cited “tremendous anger and open hostility” from the nuclear-armed North.

Early on Friday, Trump said the United States was again “talking to” North Korea.

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Asked if it was playing games ahead of the summit, the president responded, “Everyone plays games,” adding, “We’ll see what happens, it could even be the 12th.”

Trump told reporters at the White House that both sides would like the summit to happen.

“They very much want to do it, we’d like to do it,” he stressed.

In a tweet earlier in the day, Trump called the North’s response to his pullout from the nuclear talks “very good news” and said that “we will soon see where it will lead.”

Pyongyang on Friday said in a statement that it is still willing to “sit with the U.S. side” for talks “at any time.”

South Korea, which brokered the talks between Washington and Pyongyang, was caught off guard by Trump’s abrupt cancellation of the summit in which he cited hostility in recent North Korean comments. Moon said Trump’s decision left him “perplexed” and was “very regrettable.” He urged Washington and Pyongyang to resolve their differences through “more direct and closer dialogue between their leaders.”

After Trump’s latest missives about the possibility of the summit being held as scheduled, a spokesman for the Blue House called the move a positive development.

“It’s a fortunate thing that the possibility of the North Korea-U.S. dialogue is still alive without being terminated,” the South’s Yonhap news agency quoted spokesman Kim Eui-kyeom as saying. “(The Blue House) is carefully watching the progress.”

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©2018 the Japan Times (Tokyo)

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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