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Seoul seeks talks with Pyongyang at Asian Games later this month

Foreign minister Kang wraps up ASEAN regional forum

SINGAPORE -- Seoul seeks to hold senior-level talks with Pyongyang on the sidelines of the Asian Games later this month, after failing to have an official meeting with the North Korean foreign minister at the ASEAN Regional Forum in Singapore.

Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha told reporters that they were “reviewing various opportunities” as Jakarta has invited President Moon Jae-in to the opening ceremony of the Asian Games on Aug. 18.

“All chances can be an opportunity (for inter-Korean talks),” Kang said in response to a question on whether Seoul was taking steps to hold talks with Pyongyang in Jakarta, following her press briefing to round up the ARF in Singapore.

Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha, center, poses for pictures at the ASEAN Regional Forum in Singapore on Saturday. (Yonhap)
Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha, center, poses for pictures at the ASEAN Regional Forum in Singapore on Saturday. (Yonhap)

“There has been an invitation to our president. As it is a sports event, the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism will handle (the Asian Games).”

Kwun Hyuk-ki, the chief of Cheong Wa Dae’s press center, told The Korea Herald that the presidential office would decide in a week’s time whether President Moon or someone else would attend the opening after learning who is coming from the North.

Indonesia, the host of this year’s Asian Games from Aug. 18 through Sept. 2, invited both North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and President Moon Jae-in to the opening ceremony.

Indonesia’s cultural affairs minister delivered an official invitation to Kim Yong-nam, the nominal head of state and president of the North’s Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly, during his visit to Pyongyang last week.

Jakarta extended a similar invitation to Moon the week before during its foreign minister’s meeting with the South Korean president in Seoul.

In February, 90-year-old Kim Yong-nam and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s sister Kim Yo-jong met with Moon as they attended the Winter Olympic Games in South Korea’s PyeongChang, resuming inter-Korean dialogue that had been stalled for years.

Kim Jong-un, who expressed his will to resume talks with the South in his New Year’s address in January, met with Moon at Panmunjom in late April, and again a month later.

Kim went on to hold a historic summit with US President Donald Trump in June in Singapore, during which he agreed to “work toward” denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

Satellite imagery reports showed that the North began dismantling a missile-engine test site in July as agreed during the Kim-Trump summit.

North Koreans have begun taking apart the engine test stand at the Sohae Satellite Launching Station, according to a satellite imagery analysis published on the website 38 North.

However, a series of US intelligence were leaked to the press last week, indicating that work is still going on at the North’s Sanumdong factory, where intercontinental ballistic missiles were built.

It has also been reported that US agencies believe the North is secretly operating at least two uranium enrichment plants including one at the Kangson complex on the outskirts of Pyongyang.

Denuclearization is a long process involving a series of either word-to-word or action-for-action corresponding measures, a South Korean Foreign Ministry official said.

“After South Africa said it would denuclearize, it took them 17 years to announce completion. Iraq went to war after the UN failed to inspect and verify,” the official told reporters in Singapore.

“The US position at this stage is that if the North declares a list of nuclear weapons, missiles as well as weapons-related materials and facilities that it has, they can take a more proactive approach toward declaring the end of the Korean War.”

Countries under international weapons inspection are initially asked to declare a list of nuclear facilities and materials they have and weapons activities they have conducted. Inspections take place to verify whether what they declared is accurate.

In several previous cases, however, countries such as Iraq and Iran hid their weapons or weapons-related materials in places like the presidential palace, military facilities or religious sites.

“It is not hard to understand that the North is reluctant to give up its weapons all at once, because, think about what happend to Libya. Its per capita income is low and it does not have much power, so it can’t just give up what it has built for decades. A declaration of the end of the Korean War, therefore, would help the North trust that it is OK for it to denuclearize,” the official told reporters.

The two Koreas have been seeking to get the US and China, signatories of the Korean War armistice signed in 1953, to declare an end to the war in a bid to “bring about a political effect” for eventual peace on the Korean Peninsula, according to the official.

On the sidelines of the ARF in Singapore, Kang said she only had a “short, candid discussion” with North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho about how to implement agreements made at the inter-Korean summit in Panmunjom, during a gala dinner. Ri told Kang that it was “not time yet” for official talks with the South.

Kang said at the press briefing that she exchanged “candid” views with Ri about the political situation surrounding the Korean Peninsula after the Kim-Trump talks in June and the following negotiations between the North and Washington.

On Saturday, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that the US delegation at the ARF delivered a letter from Trump to Kim Jong-un, days after the White House announced that Trump had received a new letter from Kim.

Sung Kim, US ambassador to the Philippines and the State Department’s top Korea expert, was seen delivering a gray envelope and explaining something to Ri.

By Kim So-hyun (