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S Korean president hosts lunch for Kim Jong Un's sister

AP  |  Seoul 

South Korean today met with senior North Korean officials including leader Jong Un's sister over lunch at Seoul's presidential palace in the most significant diplomatic encounter between the rivals in years.

The luncheon at the came after Yo Jong and other North Korean delegates attended the opening ceremony of the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, which has brought a temporary lull in tensions over the North's nuclear program.

At the Olympic Stadium's VIP box, Yo Jong and North Korea's nominal head of state, Nam, took their place among dignitaries from around the world, including US Vice who sat just a few feet (less than a meter) away and seemed to make an effort not to acknowledge them.

Moon is desperate to use the games as an opportunity to restore regular communication with North and eventually pull it into talks over resolving the international standoff over its nuclear program.

It's still unclear whether today's event could be used to set up bigger meetings between the Koreas. Lawmakers from Moon's liberal ruling party have talked about the possibility of South sending a to to meet with There's even speculation of a summit between Kim and Moon.

Moon has already put a summit offer on the table. The first in a decade, Moon during his inauguration speech last year that he would be willing to visit and meet with if that helps solve the nuclear problem.

The North and South held summits in in 2000 and 2007, both hosted by late Kim Jong Il, the father of Kim Jong Un.

Kim Yo Jong, 30, is the first member of North Korea's ruling family to visit the South since the end of the 1950-53 Korean War.

Analysts say the North's decision to send her to the Olympics shows eagerness to break out from diplomatic isolation by improving relations with the South, which it could use as a bridge for approaching the

As of the of North Korea's ruling Workers' Party, Kim has been an increasingly prominent figure in North Korea's leadership and is considered one of the few people who has earned her brother's absolute trust.

The meeting was the first time a South Korean president hosted North Korean officials at the since November 2007, when late Roh Moo-hyun, the political mentor of Moon, invited then-North Korean Il for lunch following a meeting with government officials in

Moon and broke out broad smiles as they shook hands ahead before the start of the opening ceremony at Moon had earlier met Nam during a dinner he hosted for visiting dignitaries. Moon and the two North Korean delegates cheerfully clapped and waved as the athletes from the two Koreas jointly marched during the ceremony holding a blue-and-white flag symbolizing a unified Pence and Japanese sat nearby, looking expressionless.

Critics say it's unclear whether revived dialogue between the Koreas could lead to immediate breakthrough on the nuclear stalemate when it seems unlikely that the North would be willing to give up its nukes under any deal.

As if to drive the point home, used the eve of to throw a massive military parade in Pyongyang that was highlighted by several huge intercontinental ballistic missiles rolled out in launcher trucks.

Analysts say that the missiles, which were successfully flight tested three times last year, could potentially reach deep into the US mainland when perfected. The North also last year conducted its sixth and most powerful nuclear test to date.

In a meeting hours before yesterday's opening ceremony, Abe warned Moon not to fall for North Korea's "smile diplomacy" during the Olympics, according to Moon's office. Pence carried a similar message during his trip to and South

Abe discussed North Korea's nuclear and missile programs and brought up the issue of Japanese nationals who were abducted by the North decades ago when he shook hands and briefly spoke with during the dinner hosted by Moon in Pyeongchang, the service quoted the as saying.

After the opening ceremony, the North Korean delegates moved to and spent the night at the Walkerhill hotel, a riverside facility named after late US Army Walton Walker, who's considered a Korean War hero in the South. It was built in the 1960s under the government of late anti- communist dictator as a luxury facility for US. troops stationed in the South.

The North Korean delegates later Saturday may attend the debut of the first-ever inter-Korean Olympic team at the women's tournament in Gangneung. They may also see a performance by a visiting North Korean art troupe in on Sunday before flying back to Pyongyang.

The North has sent nearly 500 people to the Pyeongchang Games, including officials, athletes, artists and also a 230- member state-trained cheering group after the Koreas agreed to a series of conciliatory gestures for the games.

(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

First Published: Sat, February 10 2018. 08:40 IST