South Korea to send special envoy to North Korea, president tells Donald Trump

South Korea plans to send a special envoy to North Korea in response to an invitation from leader Kim Jong-un, South Korean President Moon Jae-in told his US counterpart Donald Trump in a phone call on Thursday.

The two presidents discussed the recent visits to the south by high-level North Korean officials, the South Korean presidential Blue House said in a statement.

The Olympics gave a boost to recent engagement between the two Koreas after more than a year of sharply rising tensions over the North’s missile programme and its sixth and largest nuclear test in defiance of UN sanctions.

"[Mr Moon and Mr Trump] agreed to continue to make efforts to head toward the Korean peninsula’s denuclearisation by maintaining the momentum of South-North dialogue," the Blue House statement said.

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In sending an envoy to Pyongyang, Mr Moon said he would be seeking to reciprocate for the senior delegations dispatched to the Olympics by Kim Jong-un, including his sister, Kim Yo-jong, the first visit by a member of the North’s ruling bloodline since the 1950-53 Korean War.

North Korean cheering squads leaving the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympics for North Korea Credit:
REUTERS/Kim Hee-Chul/Pool

Senior officials from Pyongyang visiting South Korea for the Winter Olympics said on Sunday their government was open to talks with the US, while the White House said any talks with North Korea must lead to an end to its nuclear programme.

Mr Moon has urged North Korea and the US to talk to resolve the issue of Pyongyang’s weapons programme, which Mr Kim has said he will never abandon.

In the latest attempt to defuse the crisis over North Korea’s weapons programme, Seoul urged Washington and Pyongyang to give ground to allow for talks.

"Both leaders agreed to continue close consultations on the progress of South-North Korea dialogue that will go on," the statement said. 

Robert Kelly, professor of political science at South Korea’s Busan University said the envoys’ visit could result in a leaders summit.

"Moon clearly wants to go. The real trick is making sure the North Koreans don’t turn a summit into an anti-American prestige-seeking one. It’s got to deal with the nuclear weapons one way or another," he said. 

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