February 26, 2018 12:02
President Moon Jae-in on Sunday met behind closed doors with Kim Yong-chol, a vice chairman of the North Korean Workers Party Central Committee who came to Pyeongchang for the closing ceremony of the Winter Olympics.
The two met for about an hour just before the closing ceremony. Also present was Ri Son-gwon, the chairman of the North's Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Fatherland.
Unlike North Korean leader Kim Jong-un's sister Yo-jong, who was invited to lunch at Cheong Wa Dae when she came here for the opening ceremony, Kim Yong-chol only had an informal meeting with Moon.
This was apparently because Kim masterminded a series of provocations against South Korea, including the sinking of the Navy corvette Cheonan in 2010, when he was chief of the General Bureau of Reconnaissance.
The presidential office did not inform journalists about the meeting and issued only a press release more than two hours later. Normally Cheong Wa Dae pool reporters are given access to presidential meetings, but not this time. The presidential office did not issue any photos of the meeting either.
According to the press release, Moon neither addressed the issue of denuclearization during the meeting nor mention the sinking of the Cheonan or other North Korean provocations.
"U.S.-North Korean dialogue must take place at the nearest possible date for inter-Korean relations to improve and to reach a fundamental resolution of Korean Peninsula issues," Moon was quoted as saying by Cheong Wa Dae spokesman Kim Eui-kyeom.
Moon used the term "Korean peninsula issues" instead of referring directly to North Korea's nuclear weapons. Kim merely agreed in principle on the need to hold talks with the U.S.
The spokesman said that there will be no further meeting between Moon and the North Korean delegation, who return on Tuesday. By contrast Moon met Kim Yo-jong several times during her three-day stay in South Korea.
A Cheong Wa Dae official said the meeting with Kim Yong-chol was unplanned since he was not a special envoy for the North Korean leader, and inviting him to Cheong Wa Dae would have fallen outside diplomatic protocol.
The president would also have faced an outcry from the families of the 46 South Korean sailors who were killed aboard the Cheonan. And U.S. President Donald Trump's daughter Ivanka, who was also here for the closing ceremony, called for "maximum pressure" on North Korea.
Meanwhile, the families of the Cheonan victims and their supporters held protests along the land route the North Korean delegation was scheduled to take en route to Seoul.
Conservative lawmakers also protested against Kim's visit, with hundreds of lawmakers joining the demonstration along the land route. As a result Kim's entourage was forced to use a road within a restricted South Korean military zone.
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