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(LEAD) Two Koreas agree to hold summit April 27

All Headlines 15:13 March 29, 2018

(ATTN: RECASTS lead; UPDATES with more info throughout)
By Kim Soo-yeon and Joint Press Corps

PANMUNJOM, March 29 (Yonhap) -- South and North Korea agreed Thursday to hold their third summit on April 27 as they seek to improve ties and ease tensions.

President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un will meet at the Peace House on the southern side of the border village of Panmunjom, according to a joint statement announced after talks between high-level officials.

It will mark the third inter-Korean summit following those in 2000 and 2007. The previous two summits were held in Pyongyang.

Both sides agreed to hold working-level talks next Wednesday to discuss protocol and security related to the summit. It is unclear whether they discussed agenda items for the planned summit.

Thursday's talks came after Kim made a surprise visit to China this week for his first summit with Chinese President Xi Jinping ahead of his meets with Moon and U.S. President Donald Trump in the coming months.

A flurry of summit diplomacy comes as the PyeongChang Winter Olympics' driven rapprochement has been created after more than a year of tensions sparked by the North's nuclear and missile programs.

Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon (R), South Korea's chief delegate for high-level talks, and his North Korean counterpart Ri Son-gwon enter a conference room at the Tongilgak building on the northern side of the border village of Panmunjom on March 29, 2018. (pool photo) (Yonhap)

Senior officials from both sides exchanged views in an amicable atmosphere, reflecting the recent detente on the Korean Peninsula.

"Over the past 80 days, there have been many dramatic events that have not been seen earlier," Ri Son-gwon, the North's chief delegate, said at the start of the meeting.

The upcoming summit will likely serve as a critical venue for discussions to resolve the North's nuclear issue.

The North's leader expressed his commitment to giving up nuclear weapons during his meeting with Xi, adding that its denuclearization hinges on Seoul and Washington taking "progressive and synchronous measures," according to China's Xinhua News Agency.

Trump agreed to meet with Kim by May after South Korean envoys who met with the North's leader in early March relayed Kim's expression of his commitment to denuclearization.

"The issue of (North Korea's) denuclearization has been the most important agenda item. ... That's the issue that we will focus on for discussion," Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon, the South's chief delegate for Thursday's talks, told reporters before leaving for Panmunjom.

North Korea's diplomatic outreach came after the country's advancement of its nuclear and missile programs heightened tensions last year, putting it under tougher international sanctions.

The North conducted its sixth and most powerful nuclear test in September last year. It also launched three intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) last year, which analysts say are capable of reaching the U.S. mainland.

Kim and Trump exchanged personal insults and bellicose rhetoric, raising fears about war on the divided peninsula.

But in a surprise move, the North extended a rare olive branch to Seoul in January, as Kim expressed his willingness to send athletes to the PyeongChang Winter Olympics held in the South last month.

Experts said the North's peace offensive may be aimed at easing tough international sanctions, which seek to curb sources of the North's hard currency.

Kim's recent trip to Beijing, the North's main economic benefactor, was seen as intended to secure more bargaining chips ahead of his meeting with Trump.

For China, the Xi-Kim summit apparently helped highlight Beijing's leverage over the North in resolving the North's nuclear standoff.

The U.S. is carrying out its campaign for "maximum pressure" to make the North abandon its nuclear arsenal and bring it to the negotiation table.

Trump announced the replacement of a lineup of the top diplomat and national security adviser with hardliners on North Korea ahead of his expected summit with Kim.

Washington has vowed to keep up its pressure campaign until the repressive regime takes sincere steps toward denuclearization.

sooyeon@yna.co.kr
(END)

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