South Korean President Moon Jae-in named his national security adviser Chung Eui-yong as a special envoy to lead a delegation on a one-day trip to North Korea on Wednesday, the presidential office said Sunday.
The delegation’s visit to Pyongyang comes as Moon is set to hold a summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un this month amid a deadlock in denuclearization talks between North Korea and the US.
Led by Chung, the five-member delegation includes Suh Hoon, chief of the National Intelligence Service; Vice Unification Minister Chun Hae-sung; Yun Kun-young, presidential secretary for state affairs; and Kim Sang-gyun, a senior NIS official, according to Cheong Wa Dae.
“The delegation will visit North Korea via a direct air route over the West Sea on Wednesday morning, and will return home on the same day after its mission is completed,” presidential spokesman Kim Eui-kyeom told a press briefing.
The high-level delegation is expected to set the date for the inter-Korean summit scheduled for this month and discuss agenda items for the summit.
“We will have extensive consultations based on the Panmunjom Declaration and the North Korea-US summit agreement, so I believe that a declaration of the end of the war, complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, and establishment of a permanent peace regime will be discussed,” Kim added.
Chung led the same five-member delegation to Pyongyang in early March amid a flurry of diplomacy following the PyeongChang Winter Olympics, which contributed to brokering a summit between the US and North Korea in June.
As for the reason Moon is sending the same delegation, the presidential office cited the importance of “continuity” in dialogue with North Korea.
It remains unclear whether the delegation will meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, the spokesman said. During the delegation’s first trip to North Korea from March 5-7, they met with the North Korean leader.
The delegation’s major task is believed to be to break an impasse in denuclearization talks between the US and North Korea by prompting the communist state to take bolder steps to denuclearize, such as revealing a list of its nuclear weapons program.
The US has stepped up pressure on North Korea in recent days amid a lack of progress on North Korea’s denuclearization. Talks between the two nations have been in a stalemate over the sequence of the denuclearization process.
US President Donald Trump canceled US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s trip to North Korea, citing “insufficient” progress, and Secretary of Defense James Mattis hinted at a resumption of South Korea-US joint military exercises, which North Korea has denounced as “rehearsals for invasion.”
The presidential spokesman said that the South Korean delegation’s trip to North Korea is a separate issue from Pompeo’s canceled Pyongyang trip, but added the South Korean government has closely consulted with the US government about sending the special envoy to Pyongyang.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in's speical delegation to Pyongyang (Yonhap)
The delegation’s visit to Pyongyang also comes amid worries that South Korea is moving too quickly to advance inter-Korean relations without progress on North Korea’s denuclearization.
An inter-Korean liaison office in North Korea’s border city of Kaesong will open in early September, according to national security adviser Chung.
The South Korean government had initially aimed to open the office in August, but Cheong Wa Dae said last week it might delay the opening of the liaison office in North Korea, after the abrupt cancellation of Pompeo’s Pyongyang trip.
“An inter-Korean liaison office is expected to open early this month,” he said Saturday at a meeting attended by lawmakers of the ruling Democratic Party of Korea, members of the Cabinet and officials from the presidential office, according to Democratic Party spokesperson Hong Ihk-pyo.
The opening of the inter-Korean liaison office, a result of the April 27 inter-Korean summit, has fueled concerns that the transfer of electricity and other supplies for the operation of the office could violate international sanctions on North Korea.
Critics have also voiced concerns that the South Korean government is pushing to improve inter-Korean relations too quickly, which raises the risk of putting Seoul at odds with Washington.
“Progress on inter-Korean relations must happen in lockstep with progress on denuclearization,” the State Department official said when asked about whether South Korea’s sending a special envoy to North Korea and holding an inter-Korean summit could help US-North Korea denuclearization talks, according to Voice of America.
Mindful of the worries, Chung also stressed close coordination with the US.
“While taking a leading role as a direct stakeholder in keeping peace on the Korean Peninsula, maintaining close cooperation (with the US) based on a firm South Korea-US alliance, and securing support from the international community, (we) will push for policies based on a public consensus and support,” Chung was quoted as saying at Saturday’s meeting presided over by Moon.