Hopes for talks grow with North Korea’s ceremonial leader to visit Sou

Published 05/02/2018 in Full coverage of the Winter Olympics.

Hopes for talks grow with North Korea’s ceremonial leader to visit Sou
FILE PHOTO: Kim Yong Nam, president of the Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly of North Korea (L), attends the 17th Non-Aligned Summit in Porlamar, Venezuela September 17, 2016. REUTERS/Marco Bello/File photo

SEOUL (Reuters) – North Korea’s ceremonial leader will make an unprecedented visit to South Korea this week, officials said on Monday, as hopes grow for high-level inter-Korean talks during the Winter Olympics that begin in four days.

North Korea’s official KCNA news agency confirmed on Monday that Kim Yong Nam, president of the Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly, would attend the Olympics’ opening ceremony on Friday in South Korea’s alpine resort town of Pyeongchang.

Seoul’s Unification Ministry said on Sunday Kim would lead a 22-strong delegation that was expected to arrive in South Korea on Friday for a three-day trip.

Kim’s visit comes as Seoul pins its hopes on high-level talks during the Feb. 9-25 Games between not only the two Koreas but also the North and the United States.

The South’s presidential Blue House in Seoul said the visit by Kim, the most senior North Korean official to cross the border into the South since the Korean War ended with a truce in 1953, would create “various opportunities” for high-level talks.

“(Kim’s visit) shows North Korea’s resolve for improved inter-Korean relations and the success of the Olympics, as well as its sincere, earnest attitude,” Blue House spokesman Kim Eui-kyeom told a news briefing on Monday.

The Games opening ceremony will also be attended by U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and other world leaders.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in told his U.S. counterpart Donald Trump in a phone call on Friday that the momentum of improved North-South relations would continue and that Pence’s visit would be an “important prelude for that”, according to the Blue House.

Trump said during a meeting with North Korean defectors on Friday that, despite a “very tricky situation”, North Korea’s participation in the Olympics could result in “something good”.

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  • He is not blacklisted by the United Nations or the United States because he is not involved in the North’s illicit nuclear and missile programs or associated with related research institutes.

    In 2014, Pyongyang sent Choe Ryong Hae, a close aide to Kim Jong Un, as part of a high-level delegation to attend the closing ceremony of the Asian Games in Incheon, South Korea.

    Choe is subject to unilateral sanctions imposed by South Korea in 2016.

    “Kim Yong Nam has little influence in North Korean internal politics, inter-Korean affairs or the nuclear issues, but has mainly been taking charge of summit diplomacy,” said Cheong Seong-chang, a senior fellow at South Korea’s Sejong Institute think tank.

    “This time, if he gets to meet Moon, he could convey Kim Jong Un’s message or invitation to Pyongyang,” Cheong said.

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