South Korea said on Monday it hopes for “constructive” talks between North Korea and the United States, a day after a delegation from the North told South Korean President Moon Jae-in that Pyongyang was open to talks with Washington.
Baik Tae-hyun, a spokesman for South Korea’s Ministry of Unification, said it was hoped talks would begin when “an appropriate opportunity” arose.
The North Korean delegation, led by former military intelligence chief Kim Yong Chol, met Chung Eui-yong, security adviser for the presidential Blue House, and other South Korean government officials for lunch on Monday.
Kim Yong Chol was accused by the South of being behind the sinking of a South Korean warship in 2010 that killed 46 sailors. North Korea has denied all allegations linked to the torpedoed warship.
“Both sides agreed to work together for permanent peace on the Korean peninsula, sustainable relations between North and South Korea and balanced cooperation with the international society,” the South’s presidential office said in a statement after Monday’s lunch meeting.
The North’s delegation met Moon on Sunday in Pyeongchang, site of the Winter Olympics, and later attended a dinner hosted by Unification Minister Cho Myong-gyon where participants from both sides agreed to continue cooperation in boosting ties between the two Koreas, the unification ministry said.
Kim Yong Chol and his delegation will leave on Tuesday, just as North and South Korean officials gather on the North’s side of the Panmunjom truce village to discuss Pyongyang’s attendance at the Pyeongchang Winter Paralympics.
Hundreds of right-wing protesters gathered in central Seoul on Monday to criticize Moon and his administration for hosting the North Korean visitors, Kim Yong Chol in particular.
Conservative activists and lawmakers have been protesting against the government’s decision to allow Kim Yong Chol, who faces sanctions from both South Korea and the United States, into the South.
His visit has enraged families of the sailors who were killed in the torpedo attack, threatening the mood of rapprochement Seoul has sought to create at the Winter Olympics.
The South Korean government said it had approved the delegation to pursue peace on the peninsula.
A total of 299 North Koreans who were in South Korea for the Winter Games, including a cheering squad, returned to the North on Monday.
In Washington, the White House has said any talks with North Korea must lead to an end to its nuclear program and that its sanctions on the North would continue. Washington announced on Friday it was imposing its largest package of sanctions to pressure North Korea to give up its nuclear and missile programs.
North Korea condemned the latest round of sanctions imposed by the United States, accusing it of trying to undermine an improvement in inter-Korean relations during the Winter Olympics, state media said in a statement.
Pyongyang has not fired any missiles since November but it defends the weapons programs as essential to deter US aggression.