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Wednesday 21 February 2018

South Korean president hosts lunch for delegation from the North

It is still unclear whether the lunch could be used to set up bigger meetings between the Koreas.

Athletes from North and South Korea wave Korean unification flags as they walk on stage during the opening ceremony of the 2018 Winter Olympics (Charlie Riedel/AP)
Athletes from North and South Korea wave Korean unification flags as they walk on stage during the opening ceremony of the 2018 Winter Olympics (Charlie Riedel/AP)

By Tong-Hyung Kim, Associated Press

South Korean President Moon Jae-in has met with senior North Korean officials including leader Kim Jong Un’s sister over lunch at Seoul’s presidential palace.

The luncheon at the Blue House came after Kim Yo Jong and other North Korean delegates attended the opening ceremony of the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, which has brought a temporary lull in tensions over the North’s nuclear program.

At the Olympic Stadium’s VIP box, Kim Yo Jong and North Korea’s nominal head of state, Kim Yong Nam, took their place among dignitaries from around the world, including US vice president Mike Pence who sat just a few feet away and seemed to make an effort not to acknowledge them.

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South Korean President Moon Jae-in shakes hands with Kim Yo Jong, left, sister of North (Kim Ju-Sung/AP)

Mr Moon is desperate to use the games as an opportunity to restore regular communication with North Korea and eventually pull it into talks over resolving the international standoff over its nuclear program.

It is still unclear whether Saturday’s event could be used to set up bigger meetings between the Koreas.

Politicians from Mr Moon’s liberal ruling party have talked about the possibility of South Korea sending a special envoy to Pyongyang to meet with Kim Jong Un.

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Kim Yo Jong, sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, arrives at the opening ceremony of the 2018 Winter Olympics (Patrick Semansky/AP)

Kim Yo Jong, 30, is the first member of North Korea’s ruling family to visit the South since the end of the 1950-53 Korean War.

Analysts say the North’s decision to send her to the Olympics shows eagerness to break out from diplomatic isolation by improving relations with the South, which it could use as a bridge for approaching the United States.

As First Vice Director of the Central Committee of North Korea’s ruling Workers’ Party, Ms Kim has been an increasingly prominent figure in North Korea’s leadership and is considered one of the few people who has earned her brother’s absolute trust.

Saturday’s meeting was the first time a South Korean president hosted North Korean officials at the Blue House since November 2007, when late liberal President Roh Moo-hyun, the political mentor of Mr Moon, invited then-North Korean premier Kim Yong Il for lunch following a meeting with government officials in Seoul.

Mr Moon and Kim Yo Jong broke out broad smiles as they shook hands ahead before the start of the opening ceremony at Pyeongchang’s Olympic Stadium. He had earlier met Kim Yong Nam during a dinner he hosted for visiting dignitaries.

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Athletes from North and South Korea wave the Korean unification flags as they arrive during the opening ceremony of the 2018 Winter Olympics (Charlie Riedel/AP)

Mr Moon and the two North Korean delegates cheerfully clapped and waved as the athletes from the two Koreas jointly marched during the ceremony holding a blue-and-white flag symbolising a unified Korean Peninsula.

Critics say it is unclear whether revived dialogue between the Koreas could lead to immediate breakthrough on the nuclear stalemate when it seems unlikely that the North would be willing to give up its nukes under any deal.

As if to drive the point home, Kim Jong Un used the eve of the Olympics to throw a massive military parade in Pyongyang that was highlighted by several huge intercontinental ballistic missiles rolled out in launcher trucks.

Analysts say that the missiles, which were successfully flight tested three times last year, could potentially reach deep into the US mainland when perfected. The North also last year conducted its sixth and most powerful nuclear test to date.

The North has sent nearly 500 people to the Pyeongchang Games, including officials, athletes, artists and also a 230-member state-trained cheering group after the Koreas agreed to a series of conciliatory gestures for the games.

Press Association

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