North and South Korean leaders plan summit in September
14 August 2018
North and South Korea have agreed to hold a summit – the third between the divided blocks this year - in September, taking another step towards boosting cooperation between the old rivals.
The decision was taken at a meeting of officials from both sides in the truce village of Panmunjom, in the demilitarised zone (DMZ) that separates the two Koreas, on Monday.
Amidst confusing signals over US efforts to end the North’s nuclear weapons programme, the two sides reached an agreement on a September summit between the countries’ leaders in the North’s capital of Pyongyang.
While no date was announced for the summit meeting between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in, the two sides had earlier agreed that Moon would visit the North’s capital in the autumn during their first meeting in April.
The first meeting of the two Korean leaders in April in Panmunjom helped ease rising tension and fears of war over the North’s development of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles. The two had since met in May in an unannounced meeting at Panmunjom.
No details on an agenda for the leaders were announced, but the two Koreas have been discussing a range of issues, from a possible peace declaration to joint economic and infrastructure projects.
During their first summit in April, Moon and Kim had agreed to push for a declaration of an end to the Korean War together with the United States this year, but Washington has said it would only be possible after the North abandons its nuclear programme.
North Korea and the United States, however, are still struggling to agree on how to bring about the North’s denuclearisation, after Kim vowed to work toward that goal at a summit in June in Singapore with US President Donald Trump.
Reports quoting US officials said North Korea has an estimated 30 to 60 nuclear warheads and that the North is yet to agree to a timeline for eliminating its nuclear arsenal or to disclose its size.
The two Koreas, however, exchanged views on the North’s denuclearisation and on a peace mechanism to replace the armistice that ended fighting during the Korean War.
After Monday’s talks, Ri Son Gwon, chairman of a North Korean committee aiming for the “peaceful reunification” of the peninsula, told his South Korean counterpart, Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon, it was important to clear “obstacles” preventing inter-Korean relations from moving forward.
“If the issues that were raised at the talks aren’t resolved, unexpected problems could emerge and the issues that are already on the schedule may face difficulties,” Ri said, without giving details.
Besides the nuclear arms issue that South raises, the North has some humanitarian issues to be settled between the two sides. One such issue is the case of a dozen North Korean restaurant workers who came to the South in 2016 via China.
The North says they were abducted by the South and should be returned. Also, it had earlier raised the issue of some families divided by the 1950-53 Korean War, planned for next week.
Cho did not say if North Korea had raised the case of the restaurant workers on Monday, merely saying it had not brought up new issues.
“There were mentions that if there are problems to be resolved by both sides, on humanitarian issues or for the development of inter-Korean relations, we should do it,” the minister told reporters.
Last month, the North’s state media criticised the South accusing it of only caring about the views of the United States and failing to take practical steps to advance inter-Korean relations.
South Korea hopes to restart efforts on a cross-peninsula railway and a joint industrial park but has been cautious about major projects due to international sanctions chiefly engineered by Washington over the North’s nuclear and missile programmes.
The North has urged the United States to end the sanctions, saying it had made goodwill gestures, including a moratorium on nuclear and missile tests, the dismantling of a nuclear site, and the return of the remains of some US soldiers killed in the Korean War.
The North wants the South to lobby for it with the United states to speed up progress in declaring an end to the war officially.