South Korean President Moon Jae-in is sending a special envoy to North Korea, following Pyongyang’s successful participation in the Winter Olympics.
According to the Blue House, Moon told US President Donald Trump in a phone call Thursday the visit would take place in the near future.
It appears to be in direct response to a personal invitation from North Korean leader Kim Jong Un delivered by his sister Kim Yo Jong during her visit to the South for the Games last month.
Moon doesn’t seem to be preparing for a personal trip above the demilitarized zone (DMZ) just yet, but sending an envoy to Pyongyang would be an important first step.
Multiple North Korean officials met with their South Korean counterparts before Kim’s Olympic trip last month in the first face-to-face meetings between the Koreas in almost two years in January.
In their phone call Thursday, Moon thanked Trump for his support during the Olympics, which included suspending joint military drills for the duration of the Games and dispatching Vice President Mike Pence and Trump’s daughter Ivanka to South Korea.
The two leaders “agreed to continue efforts to maintain the momentum of inter-Korean dialogue and lead it to the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” according to the Blue House statement.
Ramping up the rhetoric
Moon’s deployment of an envoy to the North appears to be an attempt to capitalize on the goodwill of the Olympics and improved inter-Korean relations. However, the thaw will be tested when the suspended US-South Korean military drills start in late March or early April.
According to the Yonhap news agency, officials in Seoul have said they will announce a date for the resumption of the Key Resolve and Foal Eagle exercises after the Paralympics, which finish on March 18.
There are already signs relations in the region are returning to their saber-rattling norm, with senior US officials briefing that the Trump administration is considering military action against North Korea if Pyongyang successfully builds a nuclear missile capable of hitting the US.
Concerns about the Trump administration’s policy towards Pyongyang were also raised this week with the departure of Joseph Yun, the top US State Department for North Korea, who was widely seen as a voice for diplomatic engagement in contrast to the increasingly hawkish National Security Council.
For its part, North Korea has also ramped up its rhetoric ahead of the resumption of military drills, which Pyongyang vehemently opposes, accusing them of destabilizing the Peninsula.
The official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) last week accused the US of “openly going against” the “atmosphere for detente” created on the Peninsula by the Olympics.
“The Trump group’s racket for resuming the war exercises is a wild act of ruthlessly trampling even a small sprout of peace that has been now seen on the Korean peninsula,” KCNA said.
“It is a provocative act of chilling the active efforts of (North Korea) and enthusiasm of the international community to defuse tension and create a peaceful environment.”
In a separate release Thursday, KCNA called the US a “cancer of global peace” and accused it of fabricating a United Nations report accusing North Korea of cooperating with Syria on its chemical weapons program.
“America is spreading a far-fetched claim that we have cooperated with Syria in creating chemical weapons,” the news agency quoted the Foreign Ministry as saying.
North Korea is opposed to the use of chemical weapons, it added, calling the US a “cancer of global peace as the biggest supplier of weapons in the world.”