The announcement came as the result of high-level talks held the same day, which aimed to hammer out details, plan for a new summit and discuss progress on the implementation of the Panmunjom Declaration drawn up at the landmark meeting between South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in April. The declaration states that Moon will visit Pyongyang “this fall.”
The meeting was attended by a four-member delegation from the South led by Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon and the North’s five-member team headed by Ri Son-gwon, chairman of the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Country.
A specific itinerary, including the date of the summit, was not included in the joint statement, despite Ri’s remarks to the South Korean press pool that the exact date had been set.
Cheong Wa Dae spokesman Kim Eui-Kyeom said the proposed summit will likely to be held in mid- or late September, hours after the meeting wrapped up, while elaborating that it is expected to be held after Sept. 10, considering “realistic conditions.”
Kim Jong-un had highlighted the importance of the 70th anniversary of the North’s regime, which will fall on Sept. 9, in his New Year’s address at the beginning of the year.
Cho and Ri both said at the end of the meeting that they had discussed a slew of issues surrounding the implementation of the Panmunjom Declaration and cross-border cooperation. Key events such as the reunion of families separated by the 1950-53 Korean War, cooperation at the 2018 Jakarta-Palembang Asian Games and the opening of a joint liaison office at the border town of Kaesong were further discussed, they said.
Monday’s meeting came as the North ramped up calls for the South to take inter-Korean affairs into its own hands, despite US efforts to keep its pressure campaign effective amid perceived stagnation in Pyongyang-Washington denuclearization talks.
The US has urged the North to speed up its denuclearization efforts, while the North has argued the process should be carried out in a simultaneous and phased manner.
Cho said the topics of denuclearization and a peace regime on the Korean Peninsula were also discussed.
“North Korea said it was doing its best on denuclearization and elaborated on the effort, while we stressed the need for the process to progress in a swift manner,” Cho said, adding that the establishment of a virtuous cycle of inter-Korean relations and US-North Korea ties would help such progress.
Both Koreas are currently carrying out joint research projects on railways and roads connecting the peninsula, along with reforestation of the decimated North Korean woodlands. They are also working toward opening a joint liaison office in the North by the end of the month. But the Seoul government has been cautious in expanding such cooperation due to multilayered international sanctions against the communist nation.
On the question of whether inter-Korean economic cooperation was raised at the table, Ri avoided a direct response, but said “it was all discussed.” “Specific ways to pursue (such agreements) were sought,” he added.
The meeting was conducted in a cordial atmosphere, finishing within four hours, a relatively short meeting compared to previous high-level talks.
Despite the observed mood, experts expressed skepticism over whether the North requested the meeting last week for practical purposes only.
“(Despite the announcement of the September summit,) it seems today’s meeting was held for the North to vent its frustration regarding the current situation, rather than placing the summit as the main focus,” said Kim Dong-yub, a professor at Kyungnam University’s Far East Institute, citing a lack of announcement as to the exact date of the summit.
The Seoul-based expert said the meeting was Pyongyang’s way of sending a warning to the South to give an equal amount of attention to inter-Korean ties as it does to its relations with the US.
The high-level meeting was the fourth so far this year. The last was in June.
Other South Korean officials that accompanied Cho to the meeting held at the North Korean side of the border village of Panmunjom were Vice Unification Minister Chun Hae-sung, Nam Gwan-pyo, a senior director from the presidential National Security Office, and director-general Ahn Moon-hyun from the Prime Minister’s Office.
The North Korean delegation included Vice Railroad Minister Kim Yun-hyok, Vice Minister for Land and Environmental Protection Pak Ho-yong, Vice Chairman of the Reunification Committee Pak Yong-il and Pak Myong-chol, vice chairman of the National Economic Cooperation Committee.