South Korean President Moon Jae-in arrived in Pyongyang this week to attend a three-day summit with his North Korean counterpart, Kim Jong-un.
The summit is intended to breathe life back into a diplomatic process that has stalled somewhat following Kim’s meeting with Trump in June.
The event began Tuesday with a welcoming ceremony for Moon, who is the first South Korean president to visit Pyongyang in more than 10 years and the third South Korean leader to attend a summit there since the end of WII.
Moon was greeted on the tarmac by women in traditional dresses waving unification flags as well as top North Korean officials including Chairman Kim’s sister Kim Yo Jong, Vice Chairman of the ruling Worker’s Party Choe Ryong Hae, and Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho.
The specifics of the summit agenda are unclear, but Moon is expected to seek progress on inter-Korean projects and to encourage Kim to resume negotiations with the Trump Administration.
Kim’s priorities are to move closer to a peace treaty and to the removal of economic sanctions.
“It’s clear that the leader of North Korea is trying to make a point to the United States: we may not be on the same page when it comes to denuclearization, but the Koreans are on the same page and we’re going to move forward with our relationship,” explains Jean Lee, director of the Wilson Center’s Korea Center.
North and South Korea have come a long way since the two leaders signed an agreement in April – including the reopening of military communications and reunions of families separated after the war. Further cooperation between the estranged nations is likely to violate UN sanctions.
The situations is difficult for Moon, who is trying to improve ties with the North while assisting the regime in its negotiations with the US.
“I think the problem right now for South Korea is that it’s frustrated that it can’t do more in terms of inter-Korean cooperation because of the lack of progress in US-DPRK negotiations,” says North Korean expert Frank Aum.
In order to get US-North Korea relations back on track, Moon might try to seek reassurance from Kim that a peace treaty would not require the withdrawal of US troops from South Korea.
Kim has committed to denuclearization numerous times, but the regime has ultimately failed to make any real progress.
Last month, President Trump cancelled Sec. of State Mike Pompeo’s planned trip to the peninsula because he felt that no “sufficient progress” was being made “with respect to the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”
Earlier in August, officials detected what appeared to be renewed missile activity in North Korea.
In mid-December, Kim announced he wanted to denuclearize before the end of President Trump’s first term and claimed that he had never said anything negative about Trump.