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North Korea extends historic invitation to South Korea’s president

Kim Jong Un and Moon Jae-in might soon meet in Pyongyang.

South Korean President Moon Jae-In Holds New Year Press Conference Kim Hong-ji - Pool/Getty Images

North Korea and South Korea could soon take part in a historic meeting that might help end the current nuclear standoff.

That’s because North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong Un, just invited South Korean president Moon Jae-in to the country for a summit “at an early date” in Pyeongyang, Moon’s office said in a Saturday statement. Kim Jong Un’s sister, Kim Yo Jong, delivered that message during her meeting with Moon on Saturday.

In a note she wrote when visiting the presidential office, Kim Yo Jong said, “I hope Pyongyang and Seoul will become closer in the hearts of Koreans and will bring unification and prosperity in the near future.”

Moon, the son of North Korean refugees, has long advocated for friendlier relations and dialogue with the North. It now appears Moon will accept the invitation after first responding by saying that a meeting could happen only “by creating the right conditions,” according to Moon’s spokesperson Kim Eui Kyeom. Kim, the spokesperson, added that Moon also wants North Korea to talk with the United States.

If Moon accepts the offer, it would be the first time a South Korean president entered North Korea since 2007 — and the third time overall. Eleven years ago, the South’s Roh Moo-hyun and the North’s Kim Jong Il, Kim Jong Un’s father, signed an eight-point peace agreement. Moon served as Roh’s chief of staff at the time.

That summit didn’t amount to much. Both countries — and the United States — spent much of 2017 locked in a war of words because of North Korea’s improving nuclear program and its provocative missile tests.

Some North Korea experts, like the Atlantic Council think tank’s Robert Manning, are skeptical of North Korea’s latest overture:

Will this request lead to peace?

It’s worth noting the question now is the sincerity of Pyongyang’s outreach.

North Korea might seriously want to improve relations with its southern neighbor. (During a New Year’s Day speech, Kim Jong Un said, “North and South must work together to alleviate the tensions and work together as a people of the same heritage to find peace and stability.”) Kim added that he wanted North Korean athletes to participate in the Olympics.

Moon quickly reacted to Kim’s remarks, saying it was “a response to our proposal to turn the Pyeongchang Olympic Games into an epoch-making opportunity to improve inter-Korean relations and establish peace.” That led to days of negotiations between the two countries, which in turn secured the North’s participation in the 2018 Winter Olympics.

On the other hand, North Korea’s goal could be to drive a wedge between the US and South Korea. President Donald Trump time and time again has denigrated the need to talk with the North, leading to tensions between Seoul and Washington over how best to engage Pyongyang.

This difference of opinion was on full display during the Winter Olympics’ opening ceremonies. Moon and Vice President Mike Pence watched the proceedings from the VIP balcony in the stadium, and they were joined by Kim Yo Jong. Moon shook Kim’s hand; Pence stared forward and refused to engage with her.

2018 Winter Olympic Games - Opening Ceremony Jean Catuffe/Getty Images

The worry is that the varying approaches might soon lead to a rift between South Korea and the United States, leaving Seoul to negotiate with Pyongyang on its own.

If that happens, then the US might lose its seat in any future talks to end North Korea’s nuclear program — and it might harm relations with a staunch ally in the process.