SEOUL — Leaders of South and North Korea held one-on-one talks on the second day of their summit on Wednesday, aiming to announce steps to rekindle stalled negotiations on the North’s nuclear program and deepen bilateral ties.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in kicked off their third meeting of the year on Tuesday in Pyongyang, where cheering crowds greeted the leaders as they travelled through the capital.
Afterwards, Kim said his “historic” summit with US President Donald Trump in June had improved regional stability and raised hopes for further progress.
Moon and Kim resumed their talks on Wednesday at around 10 a.m. (0100 GMT), this time without any other attendees. The talks are expected to be followed by a joint statement and a news conference, Moon’s office said.
“It’s difficult to say an agreement has been reached, and we are expecting further dialogue,” Moon’s press secretary Yoon Young-chan told a news briefing on Wednesday.
The joint statement will provide clues to whether negotiations between North Korea and the United States over dismantling Pyongyang’s nuclear programs could regain momentum, after Kim asked Trump for a second meeting.
Kim pledged to work toward the “complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula” during his first encounter with Moon in the Demilitarized Zone that separates the two Koreas in April, and at his summit with Trump in June.
But discussions over how to implement the vague commitments have since faltered, with Washington demanding concrete action towards denuclearization by North Korea before agreeing to a key goal of Pyongyang – declaring an end to the 1950-53 Korean War.
North Korea has given no indication it is willing to give up its nuclear arsenal unilaterally and is seeking relief from crippling international sanctions.
US State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert told a news briefing on Tuesday that Washington hoped the latest inter-Korean summit would bring about “meaningful, verifiable steps towards the denuclearization of North Korea” and called it a “historic opportunity” for Kim to follow through on commitments he made with Trump.
Later on Wednesday, Moon’s delegation will tour the Mansudae Art Studio, the North’s largest producer of art where state artists build statues and produce propaganda at a sprawling complex in Pyongyang.
The institution was sanctioned by the UN Security Council last year as part of global efforts to rein in Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile programs by drying up its revenue sources.
Moon is also scheduled to watch the North’s signature “Brilliant Fatherland” Mass Game which was reintroduced this year following a five-year hiatus, with a formation of glowing drones, lasers and stadium-sized gymnastics shows designed to glorify the country.
The United States is pressing countries to strictly observe international sanctions, which will likely be a key theme when Secretary of State Mike Pompeo hosts a Security Council meeting on North Korea on Sept. 27 on the sidelines of the annual UN General Assembly.
This week’s summit is intended to craft concrete steps to implement the Panmunjom Declaration, named after the border village where they first met, Seoul officials said.
The two Koreas are also working to adopt a separate military accord aimed at preventing armed clashes between the old foes, which are technically still at war because the Korean War ended with a truce, not a peace treaty.
The neighbors have already agreed to withdraw some guard posts and equipment, in a bid to transform the world’s most heavily fortified border into a no-weapons area.
Pyongyang says it has destroyed its main nuclear and missile engine test site, and has halted atomic and ballistic missile tests, but US officials and analysts believe it is continuing to work on its weapons plans clandestinely.
South Korea is pinning high hopes on Kim’s remarks to Moon’s special envoys earlier this month that he wanted to achieve denuclearization within Trump’s first term in office ending in early 2021. Kim at the same time also stressed Washington must reciprocate his initial “goodwill” gestures.
“While Moon has expressed his desire to agree on a concrete plan on denuclearization, we believe that the two nations still differ on this concept,” said Anwita Basu, an analyst at the Economist Intelligence Unit.
In previous, failed talks, North Korea has said it could consider giving up its nuclear program if the United States provided security guarantees by removing troops from South Korea and withdrawing its so-called nuclear umbrella of deterrence from the South and Japan.
US officials involved in the latest negotiations have said North Korea has refused to even start discussions about defining denuclearization.