North and South Korea held high-level talks today to discuss their ongoing efforts to improve ties ahead of a landmark meeting between US President Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un. The North-South discussions were originally scheduled for earlier this month but were abruptly called off by Pyongyang in response to a joint US-South Korea air force drill. But a day after “Max Thunder” ended May 25, the North’s leader had a surprise summit with South Korean President Moon Jae-in at the border truce village of Panmunjom — their second, following a historic first meeting in April.
“We will discuss ways to implement expediently and smoothly agreements reached by the two leaders,” the South’s Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon told journalists before leaving for Panmunjom for the talks. He said the delegation would also try “to create positive atmosphere for a US-North Korea summit,” he said. Also on the agenda are talks about how to relink cross-border railways and roads, and fielding a joint team for the Jakarta Asian Games in August. The two Koreas formed the first-ever unified Korean Olympic team when they fielded a joint women’s ice hockey squad during the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics. The current rapprochement on the peninsula was triggered by the games, to which the North sent athletes, cheerleaders, and his sister as an envoy.
The high-level meeting comes as a flurry of diplomacy is under way to lay the groundwork for a historic summit between Kim and Trump. Kim’s right-hand man, Kim Yong Chol, is set to deliver a personal letter from Kim to Trump following talks in New York with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, which made what the US diplomat called “real progress” towards the planned June 12 summit in Singapore. Simultaneously, Kim met Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Pyongyang and said the North’s “will for denuclearization of the Korean peninsula still remains unchanged and consistent and fixed”, the state-run KCNA news agency said.