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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 20 September 2018

Rival Koreas set to hold talks in September 

Upcoming summit follows slow progress on efforts to disarm North Korea 

South Korean Unification Minister Cho Myoung-Gyon talks with North Korean delegation head Ri Son-Gwon during their meeting on August 13, 2018 in Panmunjom. South Korean Unification Ministry via Getty Images 
South Korean Unification Minister Cho Myoung-Gyon talks with North Korean delegation head Ri Son-Gwon during their meeting on August 13, 2018 in Panmunjom. South Korean Unification Ministry via Getty Images 

The rival Koreas announced Monday that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in will meet in Pyongyang sometime in September, while their envoys also discussed Pyongyang's nuclear disarmament efforts and international sanctions.

The push for what would be the leaders' third summit since April comes amid renewed worries surrounding a nuclear standoff between Washington and Pyongyang.

The announcement released after nearly two hours of talks led by the rivals' chiefs for inter-Korean affairs was remarkably thin on details. In a three-sentence joint statement, the two sides did not mention an exact date for the summit and provided no details on how to implement past agreements.

Ri Son Gwon, the head of the North Korean delegation, told pool reporters at the end of the talks that officials agreed on a specific date for the summit in Pyongyang sometime within September, but he refused to share the date, saying he wanted to "keep reporters wondering".

The South Korean unification minister, Cho Myoung-gyon, told reporters after the meeting that officials still had some work to do before agreeing on when exactly the summit would happen. He said the two sides will again discuss when the leaders would meet but didn't say when.

It wasn't clear why Mr Ri and Mr Cho differed on the issue of the date, and Cho wouldn't answer a specific question about the discrepancy.

The meeting at a North Korea-controlled building in the border village of Panmunjom comes amid growing worries about whether North Korea will begin abandoning its nuclear weapons, something officials suggested would happen after Mr Kim's summit with US President Donald Trump in June in Singapore.

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North Korea is thought to have a growing arsenal of nuclear bombs and long-range missiles and to be closing in on the ability to reliably target anywhere on the US mainland. A string of weapons tests last year, during which Pyongyang claimed to have completed its nuclear arsenal, had many in Asia worried that Washington and Pyongyang were on the brink of war.

After a peace offering by Kim Jong un in January, Mr Moon was able to orchestrate his own summits with his northern counterpart, which were followed by Mr Kim and Trump's meeting in June.

The South Korean delegation for Monday's talks is led by Cho Myoung-gyon, who oversees Seoul's Unification Ministry that handles inter-Korean issues, and includes Nam Gwan-pyo, a Moon aide responsible for North Korean nuclear matters.

The North Korean delegation is led by Ri Son Gwon, chairman of the North's agency that deals with inter-Korean affairs. North Korea, which proposed Monday's talks last week, also sent officials overseeing past inter-Korean economic collaborations.

In opening remarks, the head of the North Korean delegation set a positive tone for the day's meeting, comparing the current state of inter-Korean relations to very close friends where nothing can stand between the two.

"We are attending this talk with an intention to get some good outcomes," Mr Ri told the South Korean delegation, according to pool reports. He added that continuing the discussions on the two leaders' summit in Pyongyang will help improve the inter-Korean ties.

"We will listen to the North's stance on the inter-Korean summit for this fall, which is agreed upon in the Panmunjom declaration, and share our views," Mr Cho told reporters before heading to the border, referring to the agreement at the April summit.

The meeting between Seoul and Pyongyang comes as experts see slow progress on efforts to disarm North Korea since the Singapore summit.

Pyongyang urged Washington to reciprocate its goodwill gestures, which include suspending missile and nuclear tests and returning the remains of Americans who fought in the Korean War. Washington, which cancelled an annual joint military exercise with South Korea that had taken place in August in previous years, has refused to ease sanctions until North Korea finally and fully denuclearises.

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