SEOUL: South Korea’s president and the North’s leader Kim Jong Un drove together through the streets of Pyongyang on Tuesday past thousands of cheering citizens before opening a summit where Moon Jae-in will seek to reboot stalled denuclearisation talks between his hosts and the United States.
Kim and Moon embraced at Pyongyang’s international airport — where the North Korean leader had supervised missile launches last year as tensions mounted.
The North’s unique brand of choreographed mass adulation was on full display as hundreds of people waved North Korean flags and another depicting an undivided peninsula — while the South’s own emblem was only visible on Moon’s Boeing 747 aircraft.
Thousands of people, holding bouquets and chanting in unison “Reunification of the country!”, lined the streets as Kim and Moon rode through the city in an open-topped vehicle, passing the Kumsusan Palace where Kim’s predecessors — his father and grandfather — lie in state.
“I am acutely aware of the weight that we bear,” Moon told Kim as they opened two hours of formal talks at the headquarters of the ruling Workers’ Party, adding that he felt a “heavy responsibility”. At a banquet after the first day of the summit, Moon said the “complete denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula and the establishment of peace” were priorities.
The South Korean leader said there would be challenges ahead but that he and Kim had “trust and friendship”.
Kim hailed his relationship with Moon, and said the pair would discuss “various issues ... in a frank and open-minded manner”.
The North Korean leader declared his backing for the denuclearisation of the peninsula at his Singapore summit with US President Donald Trump in June. But no details were agreed and Washington and Pyongyang have since sparred over what that means and how it will be achieved.
The US is pressing for the North’s “final, fully verified denuclearisation”, while Pyongyang wants a formal declaration that the 1950-53 Korean War is over and has condemned “gangster-like” demands for it to give up its weapons unilaterally.
A commentary in the Rodong Sinmun, the mouthpiece of the North’s ruling party, repeated the criticism on Tuesday, saying Washington was “totally to blame” for the deadlock. “The US is stubbornly insisting on the theory of ‘dismantlement of nukes first’,” it added.
Moon will hold another round of formal talks with Kim on Wednesday, as he urges the North Korean leader to make substantive steps towards disarmament that he can present to Trump.
Published in Dawn, September 19th, 2018