Kim Jong Un invites South Korea’s Moon to Pyongyang

GANGNEUNG, South Korea (AFP) – North Korean leader Kim Jong Un invited the South’s President Moon Jae-in for a summit in Pyongyang yesterday, Seoul said, even as the US warned against falling for Pyongyang’s Olympic charm offensive.

The invitation, delivered by Kim’s visiting sister Kim Yo Jong, said Kim was willing to meet the South’s leader “at the earliest date possible”, said a spokesman for the presidential Blue House.

An inter-Korean summit would be the third of its kind, after Kim’s father and predecessor Kim Jong Il met the South’s Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun in 2000 and 2007 respectively, both of them in Pyongyang.

Moon did not immediately accept the invitation. But the prospect could sow division between the dovish leader, who has long argued for engagement with the nuclear-armed North to bring it to the negotiating table, and US President Donald Trump, who last year traded personal insults and threats of war with Kim.

Washington insists that Pyongyang – which is under multiple sets of UN Security Council sanctions – must take concrete steps towards denuclearisation before any negotiations can happen.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in receives a letter from Kim Yo Jong, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s sister, at the presidential house in Seoul, South Korea, yesterday. – AP

After months of silence on whether it would even take part in the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics in the South, the Games have driven a rapprochement on the peninsula, while the North’s athletes, performers and delegates have dominated the headlines.

Moon met Kim Yo Jong – a close confidante of her brother and the first member of the dynasty to set foot in the South since the Korean War – and the North’s ceremonial head of state Kim Yong Nam at the Blue House in Seoul.

“We hope to see you in Pyongyang at an early date,” Kim Yo Jong told Moon after delivering a personal letter from her brother, according to officials.

“We want to see President Moon become a protagonist in opening a new chapter for reunification and leave great footprints in history,” she said.

The two Koreas have been divided since the conflict ended in a ceasefire in 1953, and the democratic South has risen to become the world’s 11th-largest economy, while the North has stagnated under the Kim family’s rule.

The offer could put Moon in a delicate diplomatic quandary, but he avoided a direct response, said his spokesman Kim Eui-kyeom, and called instead for efforts to “create the right conditions” for a visit.

Moon urged Pyongyang to actively seek an “absolutely necessary” dialogue with Washington, he said.

Tensions between the two soared last year as Pyongyang launched intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of reaching the US mainland and carried out by far its most powerful nuclear test to date.