Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un shake hands after signing agreements during the inter-Korean summit at the truce village of Panmunjom, in this still frame taken from video, South Korea April 27, 2018. Picture: HOST BROADCASTER VIA REUTERS TV
Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un shake hands after signing agreements during the inter-Korean summit at the truce village of Panmunjom, in this still frame taken from video, South Korea April 27, 2018. Picture: HOST BROADCASTER VIA REUTERS TV

Seoul — South Korean President Moon Jae-in will visit Pyongyang in September, while Russian President Vladimir Putin has said he is ready to meet North Korean leader Kim Jong-un at "an early" (but unspecified) date.

Moon says his visit will be a "bold step" towards formally ending the decades-old war with the nuclear-armed North.

The two Koreas agreed earlier this week to hold a third meeting between Moon and Kim in September as a rapid diplomatic thaw builds on the peninsula following their first summit in April.

Moon’s trip to the North Korean capital will be the first visit by a South Korean head of state to Pyongyang since 2007. The leaders will "take a bold step towards declaring an end to the war and a peace treaty", Moon said at a ceremony on Wednesday marking the 73rd anniversary of liberation from Japanese colonial rule in 1945.

The 1950-1953 Korean War ended with an armistice rather than a peace treaty, leaving the two neighbours technically still in a state of conflict.

The signatories to the armistice included the US-led UN Command — which fought alongside the South’s troops — as well as China and North Korea.

Declaring an end to the war was one of the agreements at the groundbreaking April summit, but little progress has been made, with the US and North Korea at loggerheads over Pyongyang’s denuclearisation.

The US state department said on Tuesday that while Washington supported "a peace regime", its prime goal was ending North Korea’s nuclear and missile programmes.

China welcomed the September summit on Wednesday, saying it believed the talks "will help promote the denuclearisation of the peninsula".

Moon brokered the historic summit between US President Donald Trump and Kim in Singapore in June, where the two leaders signed a vague agreement on denuclearisation.

"Deeply-rooted distrust" must be removed for each side to carry out the agreements, Moon said, but the two Koreas must lead the current diplomacy on the peninsula. "An improvement in inter-Korean ties is not a collateral benefit to better relations between the US and the North," he said.

The dovish South Korean leader offered his vision for economic co-operation with the North once the peninsula was denuclearised, stressing that true liberation would only be achieved by ending the division.

"We must overcome division for our survival and prosperity," Moon said. "Even if political reunification is still far away, for the South and the North to establish peace, freely travel back and forth and to form a joint economic community will be true liberation for us," he added.

The rapid rapprochement between the two neighbours began earlier in 2018 ahead of the Winter Olympics in the South, and cross-border exchanges have significantly increased since then, with planned reunions for war-separated families for the first time in three years.

However, international sanctions against the North for its nuclear and missile programmes have kept economic co-operation between the two Koreas from taking off.

Although Trump touted his summit with Kim as a historic breakthrough, the North has since criticised Washington for its "gangster-like" demands of complete, verifiable and irreversible disarmament.

The US has urged the international community to maintain tough sanctions on the isolated regime.

Putin ready to meet Kim

As the diplomatic thaw proceeds, the North’s state media reported on Wednesday that Putin was ready to meet Kim "at an early date".

In June, Putin invited Kim and Moon to an economic forum in Vladivostok in September, although it is not known whether Kim responded to the invitation.

In a message to Kim on the North’s national liberation day — marking the end of Japanese rule over Korea at the end of World War 2 — Putin reiterated his intention for a summit.

"I affirm that I am ready to meet you at an early date to discuss urgent issues of bilateral relations and important matters of the region," Putin said in a message carried by the North’s official Korean Central News Agency.

The message did not offer a specific date for the meeting.

Putin expressed hope to further develop "reciprocal co-operation including the realisation of the tripartite project" that would also involve South Korea.

Kim also sent a message to Putin, KCNA reported, noting the "valuable tradition" of their joint wartime struggle against Japan was the "strong roots" of their bilateral relations.

The message gave no response to Putin’s invitation, although KCNA did not make it clear if Kim’s message came before or after the letter from Moscow.

AFP