President Moon Jae-in is sending a five-member delegation to North Korea on Monday led by two senior security advisers, Cheong Wa Dae said Sunday.
National Security Council chief Chung Eui-yong, National Intelligence Service chief Suh Hoon and three others will spend two days in the North and hope to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un to deliver a letter from Moon.
The delegation will head to Washington shortly afterward to brief U.S. President Donald Trump. A high-ranking Cheong Wa Dae official said, "Chung is an old hand in U.S. affairs and plays a pivotal role in Korea-U.S. relations, while Suh is an expert who has played a key role in promoting inter-Korean dialogue."
Chung will explain Washington's position to the North Korean leader in hopes of stimulating talks between the two sides, while Suh is expected to lead efforts to bring about cross-border dialogue.
One ruling-party official said they are also on a mission to negotiate the release of three Korean Americans who have been held captive in North Korea for one to three years, which is why they plan to visit the U.S. right after returning to South Korea.
"Even if the U.S. is not interested in talks with North Korea without a pledge to scrap its nuclear weapons, it may be enticed to engage in dialogue if the release of American citizens is involved," one source said.
But the main goal is to meet the North Korean leader and see whether he is willing to engage in talks to discuss scrapping the North's nuclear weapons.
Senior North Korean apparatchik Kim Yong-chol, the head of the United Front Department who visited South Korea last month, said, "The door remains open for dialogue with the U.S." but gave no response to demands for North Korea to scrap its nuclear program.
Cheong Wa Dae spokesman Yoon Young-chan said the visit comes in response to Kim dispatching his sister Yo-jong to South Korea during the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang. "The delegation will take part in comprehensive discussions to create an environment for talks with the U.S., stimulate inter-Korean exchanges and improve cross-border relations." Yoon added.
They fly directly to Pyongyang, where they will meet first with titular head of state Kim Yong-nam, Kim Yong-chol and other high-ranking officials who visited the South during the Olympics.
Asked whether they will really meet Kim Jong-un, a high-ranking Cheong Wa Dae official said, "We believe they will achieve results that correspond to President Moon meeting Kim Yo-jong."
But Cheong Wa Dae said nothing has been confirmed. It is typical of North Korea to keep visitors in the dark until the last minute whether they will meet Kim, who has even snubbed senior Chinese officials. But Cheong Wa Dae seems confident that he will meet them since Moon welcomed Kim Yo-jong at Cheong Wa Dae.
One source said, "Kim Jong-un may take radical steps to demonstrate his willingness for talk as a means of overcoming international sanctions."
The North Korean leader has met South Korean officials only once before. In December of 2011, he met with former first lady Lee Hee-ho, the widow of ex-president Kim Dae-jung, and Hyundai Group chairwoman Hyun Jeong-eun, who visited the North to attend former North Korean leader Kim Jong-il's funeral. But they only exchanged greetings.
Kim has met only seven times with foreign diplomats, including four meetings with Chinese Communist Party representatives, two meetings with a Cuban envoy and delegation and once with a Syrian delegation. He has not met any foreign diplomats since July 2016.