North Korean leader Kim Jong Un held talks with top aides to South Korea's Moon Jae In in Pyongyang, the president's office said, in the first meeting between the leader of the isolated nation and officials from Seoul since he took power in 2011.
National Security Office head Chung Eui Yong and National Intelligence Service chief Suh Hoon were in the North Korean capital to persuade Kim to start talks with the US on denuclearisation and stave off a potential conflict over his nuclear programme. The envoys also planned to discuss with Pyongyang officials the release of three Korean-Americans detained in North Korea.
Kim hosted the envoys for a dinner, a spokesman for Moon told a briefing. The delegation arrived around in the afternoon.
The South Korean envoys are due to travel to Washington later this week to discuss the results of their discussions with the Trump Administration.
Their two-day trip follows a visit by Kim's sister to South Korea last month, when she invited Moon to North Korea to meet her brother for what would be the first inter-Korean summit for 11 years.
The Winter Olympics - including the Paralympics that run March 9-18 - have provided a window to rebuild diplomatic ties after an escalating series of North Korean weapons tests last year prompted United Nations sanctions and threats of military action by US President Donald Trump. While both the US and North Korea say they're open to talks, it's unclear how much either side is willing to concede.
The meeting "shows Kim Jong Un wants to achieve his inter-Korean objectives laid out in his New Year's Day address," said Duyeon Kim, visiting senior research fellow at the Korean Peninsula Future Forum in Seoul. "It places much importance on the envoys' visit while continuing his peace offensive tactics toward the South and portraying his country as normal, modern, and peace-loving."
Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono told reporters in Tokyo that it's important for efforts to be made in the talks toward denuclearisation, Kyodo News reported.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told reporters in a regular briefing in Beijing that China hopes the interaction between the two Koreas could bring about talks between North Korea and US. He added that China stands ready to play a positive role to realise denuclearisation and achieve lasting peace on the peninsula.
Trump and Moon spoke about the situation in a 30-minute phone call last week. The White House said the leaders "noted their firm position that any dialogue with North Korea must be conducted with the explicit and unwavering goal of complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearisation."
Kim's government says nuclear weapons are necessary to deter any US-led military action. A North Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson told the official Korean Central News Agency last weekend that the country wouldn't accept US preconditions.
"We have intention to resolve issues in a diplomatic and peaceful way through dialogue and negotiation, but we will neither beg for dialogue nor evade the military option claimed by the US," the spokesperson said.