South Korean Officials to Visit Pyongyang for Talks

SEOUL—South Korea said that it would send its top national security adviser to Pyongyang this week to discuss ways to facilitate dialogue between the U.S. and North Korea on denuclearization, pushing forward engagement even as the U.S. remains wary of talking to the nuclear-armed state.

Chung Eui-yong, the head of the South’s National Security Council, and

Suh Hoon,

Seoul’s top intelligence official, will lead a ten-member delegation to Pyongyang for a two-day trip beginning Monday, Yoon Young-chan, a spokesman for the presidential office in Seoul, said Sunday.

The special envoys are expected to open discussions for a possible summit meeting between South Korean President

Moon Jae-in

and North Korean leader

Kim Jong Un,

who extended an invitation last month for Mr. Moon to visit Pyongyang.

Immediately following the trip to Pyongyang, the South Korean officials will travel to the U.S. for meetings to debrief their counterparts in Washington, Mr. Yoon said.

Even as the South’s first left-leaning administration in nearly a decade pushes for more engagement with the North, it remains unclear whether any inter-Korean dialogue would lead to serious negotiations aimed at dismantling North Korea’s nuclear weapons program, as the U.S. has demanded.

The two Koreas have held a series of talks since early January, when Mr. Kim suggested in his new year address that he would be interested in sending a North Korean delegation to the Pyeongchang Olympics in South Korea.

But while the two Koreas have met many times since then, including high-level meetings between Mr. Moon and Mr. Kim’s sister at the Opening Ceremony, and between Mr. Moon and senior North Korean official

Kim Yong Chol

at the Closing Ceremony, the nuclear issue appears to have so far remained off the agenda.

During the two days of meetings in Pyongyang, the South Korean delegation will discuss ways to create the right conditions for talks on denuclearization between the U.S. and North Korea and ways to boost exchanges between the two Koreas, Mr. Yoon said. Mr. Yoon also pledged to keep China and Japan updated on the results of the meetings in Pyongyang.

Both Messrs. Chung and Suh were part of the meetings last month with Mr. Kim’s sister

Kim Yo Jong

and with Kim Yong Chol.

Of the two South Korean envoys, Mr. Suh has a longer record of working with North Korea.

Mr. Suh, 63 years old, played a key role in setting up the two inter-Korean summits in 2000 and 2007. Following an agreement between the U.S. and North Korea to freeze Pyongyang’s nuclear program in 1994, Mr. Suh spent several years living in North Korea to help oversee the construction of light water reactors. That agreement ultimately fell apart.

Mr. Chung, 71 years old, is a veteran diplomat who served as ambassador to Israel before becoming national security adviser last year. As the North conducted a series of missile launches last year, Mr. Chung was closely involved in crafting Seoul’s response, and was in frequent dialogue with his U.S. counterpart,

Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster.

Before Sunday’s announcement, Mr. Moon had informed President

Donald Trump

that he planned to send a special envoy to North Korea to follow on the visit by Mr. Kim’s sister to South Korea last month, according to Mr. Moon’s office.

But the White House’s readout of the Thursday phone call didn’t mention the special envoy, saying only that Washington and Seoul had reaffirmed their commitment to the idea that “any dialogue with North Korea must be conducted with the explicit and unwavering goal of complete, verifiable, and irreversible denuclearization.”

White House spokeswoman

Sarah Huckabee Sanders

said at a briefing later on Thursday that there was “no daylight” between Washington and Seoul, and added that “we’re excited about any steps moving forward” toward the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

On Saturday evening, North Korea said through its state media that it was open to talks with the U.S.—but added that it would only discuss “issues of mutual concern on an equal footing between states,” an apparent allusion to Pyongyang’s longstanding claim that it is a nuclear power that must be accepted as an equal with the U.S.

The North also made clear in its statement, which was attributed to a spokesperson for its Ministry of Foreign Affairs, that it wouldn’t accept any preconditions for talks. The U.S. has said that it would sit down for serious negotiations with Pyongyang on the condition that denuclearization was on the table.

“In decades-long history of the DPRK-U.S. talks, there had been no case at all where we sat with the U.S. on any precondition, and this will be the case in future, too,” the statement said, using the abbreviation for North Korea’s formal name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

Write to Jonathan Cheng at jonathan.cheng@wsj.com


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