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North Korea’s Kim Jong Un had ‘openhearted talk’ with Seoul envoys

There is still some scepticism surrounding the meeting, however.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un had an “openhearted talk” in Pyongyang with envoys for South Korean President Moon Jae-in, the North said on Tuesday.

It is the first time South Korean officials have met with the young North Korean leader in person since he took power after his dictator father’s death in late 2011 — and the latest sign that the Koreas are trying to mend ties after a year of repeated North Korean weapons tests and threats of nuclear war.

North Korea’s state media said Mr Kim expressed his desire to “write a new history of national reunification” during a dinner on Monday night that Seoul said lasted about four hours.

Given the robust history of bloodshed, threats and animosity on the Korean Peninsula, there is considerable scepticism over whether the Koreas’ apparent warming relations will lead to lasting peace.

North Korea, some believe, is trying to use improved ties with the South to weaken US-led international sanctions and pressure, and to provide domestic propaganda fodder for Mr Kim.

But each new development also raises the possibility that the rivals can use the momentum from the good feelings created during North Korea’s participation in the South’s Pyeongchang Winter Olympics last month to ease a standoff over North Korea’s nuclear ambitions and restart talks between Pyongyang and Washington.

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North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, left, shakes hands with South Korean National Security Director Chung Eui-yong (Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service via AP)

The North Korean report sought to make Mr Kim look statesmanlike as he welcomed the visiting South Koreans, with Mr Kim offering views on “activating the versatile dialogue, contact, cooperation and exchange”.

He was also said to have given “important instruction to the relevant field to rapidly take practical steps for” a summit with Mr Moon, which the North proposed last month.

Mr Moon, a liberal who is keen to engage the North, likely wants to visit Pyongyang. But he must first broker better ties between the North and Washington, which is Seoul’s top ally and its military protector.

The role of a confident leader welcoming visiting, and lower-ranking, officials from the rival South is one Mr Kim clearly relishes. Smiling for cameras, he posed with the South Koreans and presided over what was described as a “co-patriotic and sincere atmosphere”.

Many in Seoul and Washington will want to know if, the rhetoric and smiling images notwithstanding, there is any possibility Mr Kim will negotiate over the North’s breakneck pursuit of an arsenal of nuclear missiles that can viably target the US mainland.

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Kim Yong Chol, vice chairman of North Korea’s ruling Workers’ Party Central Committee, second from right, talks with South Korean delegation in Pyongyang (South Korea Presidential Blue House/Yonhap via AP)

The North has repeatedly and bluntly declared it will not give up its nuclear bombs. It also hates the annual US-South Korean military exercises that were postponed because of the Olympics but will likely happen later this spring. And achieving its nuclear aims rests on the North resuming tests of missiles and bombs that set the region on edge.

Photos distributed by the North showed a beaming Mr Kim dressed in a dark Mao-style suit and holding hands with Mr Moon’s national security director, Chung Eui-yong, the leader of the 10-member South Korean delegation. Mr Chung’s trip is the first known high-level visit by South Korean officials to the North in about a decade.

The South Korean delegates have another meeting with North Korean officials on Tuesday before returning home, but it is unclear if Mr Kim will be there.

He was said to have expressed at the dinner his “firm will to vigorously advance the north-south relations and write a new history of national reunification by the concerted efforts of our nation to be proud of in the world”.

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