North and South Korea on Saturday held talks over establishing a telephone hotline between their leaders and other communication issues ahead of a rare summit between the rivals later this month.
The closed-door talks between working-level officials at a border village were part of preparatory discussions to set up the April 27 summit between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in. The meeting, only the third summit between the Koreas since the end of the 1950-53 Korean War, could prove to be significant in the global diplomatic push to resolve the standoff over North Korea’s nuclear program.
A summit between Kim and President Donald Trump is anticipated in May.
Before Saturday’s meeting, South Korea didn’t specify what would be discussed other than the hotline between the leaders. The Koreas have agreed not to disclose the contents of their preparatory talks until they reach an agreement, Moon’s office said. The Koreas agreed on the date of the summit in a high-level meeting last week.
South Korea, which has shuttled between Pyongyang and Washington to set up the talks, said Kim had expressed willingness to talk about giving up nuclear weapons during his upcoming meetings with Moon and Trump. The North has yet to officially confirm such intent or Kim’s interest in meeting Trump.
Kim last month made a surprise visit to Beijing and met with Chinese leader Xi Jinping, a move widely seen as strengthening the North’s position ahead of his talks with Moon and Trump. China, North Korea’s only major ally and main economic lifeline, has been calling for a “dual suspension” of North Korean nuclear and missile activities in return for the United States and South Korea suspending their large-scale military exercises.
The Koreas earlier this week held separate working-level discussions on the protocol, security and media coverage issues of the inter-Korean summit. The countries will hold at least one more meeting on these issues to discuss the summit’s agenda.
Working-level officials need to determine how Kim would arrive at the southern side of the border village for the summit.
South Korean media have speculated whether Kim, who has a flair for the dramatic, would cross the Military Demarcation Line that bisects the countries in a symbolic gesture of peace. The Koreas have to also decide how many times Kim and Moon would meet on April 27 and whether parts of the summit would be broadcast on live television.
The rivals agreed to set up a hotline between the offices of Kim and Moon in March when Moon’s envoys visited Kim in Pyongyang. In a subsequent trip to Washington, Moon’s envoys brokered a meeting between Kim and Trump, who said he would meet the North Korean leader by May.
South Korea says a functional hotline between Kim and Moon would help facilitate dialogue and reduce misunderstanding during times of tension. Moon and Kim plan to hold their first telephone conversation sometime before their face-to-face meeting, according to Moon’s office.
North Korea’s abrupt diplomatic outreach since the start of the year has brought a temporary lull to tensions sparked by its flurry of nuclear weapons and missile tests last year that resulted in Kim and Trump exchanging crude insults and threats of war.
The North last year tested a purported thermonuclear warhead and three intercontinental ballistic missiles designed to strike the continental United States. It also flew two midrange missiles over Japan while threatening to fire similar weapons toward Guam, the Pacific U.S. military hub.
The United States responded by frequently sending its strategic assets such as long-range bombers and aircraft carriers to the region in a show of force and floating talks of military options against North Korea.
Follow Kim Tong Hyung on Twitter at @KimTongHyung