North Korea’s state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) described the encounter as an “openhearted talk” over issues aimed at “improving the North-South relations and ensuring peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula.”
The Seoul delegation also delivered a personal letter from South Korean President Moon Jae-in to Kim, according to KCNA.
The South Koreans’ trip north marks the latest development in President Moon’s efforts to broker a diplomatic agreement to the crisis brought about by North Korea’s pursuit of nuclear weapons. The visit comes in the wake of the thaw brought about by North Korea’s attendance at the PyeongChang Winter Olympics last month.
The meeting marks a dramatic departure from 2017, when a string of North Korean weapons tests and hostile rhetoric from US President Donald Trump and Kim heightened tensions on the Korean Peninsula.
“Kim Jong Un as a leader has kept himself highly circumscribed. This is not someone who has met with many non-North Koreans in almost six years,” said John Delury, a professor at Yonsei University’s Graduate School of International Relations in Seoul.
“It’s a major signal of his personal commitment to this process and it gives the South Koreans, for the first time, someone can get a read on Kim Jong Un himself.”
To date, Kim has met few foreigners since taking control of the hermit state. He’s hosted former basketball star Dennis Rodman on multiple occasions and was photographed clasping hands with Liu Yunshan, a former top leader of China’s Communist Party, at a military parade in 2015.
Kim did not appear to meet with a senior Chinese envoy who was sent to North Korea for rare talks in November 2017, nor did he meet with former US Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, who traveled to Pyongyang for a rare visit nearly four years ago.
The United States has said it would be willing to meet with North Korea, but has always insisted that Pyongyang eventually abandon its nuclear weapons program as part of any talks, a stance Trump reiterated Saturday night.
North Korea’s Foreign Ministry, for its part, accused the US of refusing to recognize realities on the ground and putting forward unrealistic roadblocks to dialogue.