North Korea’s Kim Jong-un lays out red carpet for Moon Jae-in on mission to save nuclear talks
Moon’s three-day trip to North Korea’s capital is the first such visit by a South Korean leader in 11 years
North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un greeted South Korea President Moon Jae-in with a handshake, hug and a large welcoming ceremony at Pyongyang’s airport Tuesday ahead of a landmark summit aimed at reviving stalled denuclearisation talks.
Moon landed at Pyongyang Sunan International Airport at 9:50am (8:50am Hong Kong time) on South Korea’s Boeing 747-400 presidential jet, after flying the so-called “West Sea route” from Seoul’s Seongnam Air Base.
Almost 20 minutes later, Kim exited the airport’s domestic terminal and walked towards the presidential jet to welcome Moon.
As Kim walked, a North Korean army band played music. Moon exited the plane to cheering North Koreans near the red carpet.
Moon and Kim, smiling at one another, shook hands and hugged as Kim’s wife Ri Sol-ju greeted South Korea’s first lady, Kim Jung-sook.
Other North Korean officials present were Kim Yong-nam, President of the Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly of North Korea and Choe Ryong-hae, a member of the Presidium and Secretariat of the Workers’ Party of Korea.
Kim Yo-jong, the North Korean leaders’s sister, was also present to welcome Moon.
Moon is the third South Korean president to visit Pyongyang after predecessors Kim Dae-jung visited in 2000 and Roh Moo-hyun in 2007. Both met then-leader Kim Jong-il.
Moon, who met Kim in April and May this year, was instrumental in brokering the historic Singapore summit between US President Donald Trump and Kim in June, when Kim backed denuclearisation of the “Korean peninsula”.
But as the flurry of diplomacy quieted down, there has been little progress in the US goal of North Korea relinquishing its nuclear arsenal.
Trump even cancelled a trip by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to Pyongyang for fear it would not yield concrete results.
After the welcoming ceremony, the two leaders travelled in a black Mercedes limousine with open-top rear seats to the Paekhwawon State Guest House, where Moon will stay during his three-day visit.
Kim and Moon briefly stepped out of the vehicle to greet and take flowers from people in the crowds who waved flags and shouted “Motherland! Unification!”.
Clean streets and high rise buildings were seen as the motorcade passed Ryomyong Street, a new residential district launched last year under Kim’s initiative to modernise the city.
Kim and Moon will hold formal talks from 3:30pm to 5pm, Moon’s office said.
Three big issues were expected to be on the agenda; improving inter-Korean relations, promoting denuclearisation and US-North Korea dialogue, and ending inter-Korean military tensions.
“It would be very meaningful if US-North Korea dialogue is to be resumed through my visit to North Korea,” Moon said as he departed South Korea.
“It is very important for North and South to meet frequently.”
Talks were expected to continue Wednesday before a banquet in the evening.
Military officials have in recent months discussed the possibility of disarming a jointly controlled area at the Koreas’ shared border village.
However, both sides are still divided on the issue of establishing a “peace zone” along their disputed sea boundary in the Yellow Sea.
“What we seek is a permanent, irreversible settlement of peace on the Korean peninsula” said Yoon Young-chan, South Korea’s presidential senior secretary for public relations.
Moon brought some of South Korea’s top business leaders with him to Pyongyang.
His 200-member delegation includes Samsung Electronics Co. Vice-Chairman Jay Y. Lee, who is travelling while on a suspended prison sentence after being convicted of bribing a confidante of Moon’s predecessor, Park Geun-hye.
He has denied wrongdoing and appealed the ruling with the Supreme Court.
Moon is expected to return to Seoul on Thursday morning. The South Korean leader is due to fly to New York later this month to attend the UN General Assembly, where he is expected to meet Trump.
Additional reporting by Associated Press, Reuters, Bloomberg and The Guardian