American and North Korean officials have held talks at the border between North and South Korea amid preparations for a summit between the two countries’ leaders, the US State Department has said.
“A US delegation is in ongoing talks with North Korean officials at Panmunjom,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said on Sunday, referring to a village in the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) that runs along the border between North and South Korea.
“We continue to prepare for a meeting between the President and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un,” she said in a statement.
The talks come a day after the North Korean leader and South Korean President Moon Jae-in held a surprise meeting in Panmunjon aimed at saving the proposed June 12 summit after US President Donald Trump announced to pull out from it on Thursday. Trump reconsidered the decision the next day.
Earlier, The Washington Post reported that a group of American diplomats traveled to North Korea to prepare the ground for the summit. The delegation arrived in Pyongyang on Sunday, according to the report.
The trip by the US delegation to Pyongyang is the latest development in a week of diplomatic ups and downs between the two sides over the prospects for the unprecedented summit.
The visit is also the strongest sign that Washington is committed to a meeting after Trump’s sudden pullout. It took Trump only one day to change his mind and say that a meeting was still possible.
According to the report, the US group was led by Sung Kim, a former US ambassador to South Korea who once was a former nuclear negotiator with the North.
Accompanying the former diplomat was Allison Hooker, the Korea expert on the White House National Security Council, as well as a Defense Department official, the report noted
In its first meeting, the group sat down for talks with Choe Son Hui, the North Korean vice foreign minister.
Earlier in the week, an American official had confirmed to Reuters that Sung Kim, who is currently the US ambassador to the Philippines, was going to lead an American delegation to meet North Korean officials.
President Moon said on Saturday after meeting with Kim that the North Korean leader wanted the summit to take place.
The meetings were expected to continue on Monday and Tuesday, the report added.
Moon said that during their meeting, Kim reaffirmed commitment to “complete” denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula .
President Moon has criticized Trump’s cancellation of the summit, calling the move “shocking and very regrettable.” Moon has been acting as a go-between in diplomatic efforts for the potential summit.
The summit announcement came after several months of unprecedented cordial diplomacy between South and North Koreas, which had been adversaries for decades.
The United States, which has substantial presence in South Korea, was on a war footing with the North over Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile programs.
The development resurrected hopes that Trump and Kim could soon meet to try to find a solution to the crisis on the Korean Peninsula that has escalated over the past year.
North Korea dismantled its sole known nuclear test site on Thursday in an array of explosions. The Punggye-ri test facility has been the staging ground for all six of the North’s nuclear tests, including its latest and by far most powerful one in September last year, which Pyongyang claimed was an hydrogen bomb.