PYEONGCHANG, South Korea
A rare invitation to Pyongyang for South Korea’s president marked Day Two of the North Korean Kim dynasty’s southern road tour Saturday, part of an accelerating diplomatic thaw that included some Korean liquor over lunch and the shared joy of watching a “unified” Korea team play hockey at the Olympics.
Nothing has been settled on any trip north by South Korean President Moon Jae-in. But the verbal message to come at a “convenient time” from dictator Kim Jong Un, delivered by his visiting younger sister, Kim Yo Jong, is part of a sudden rush of improving feelings between the rivals during the Pyeongchang Olympics. The result: a heady, sometimes surreal, state of affairs in a South Korea that has seen far more threat than charm out of the North.
Still, it wouldn’t be South Korea if people weren’t asking the perennial question when it comes to North Korea changing gears and showering its rival with apparent affection: What’s in it for Pyongyang?
Past “charm offensives” have been interpreted as North Korea trying to recoup from crippling sanctions on their nuclear program, or trying to drive a wedge between Seoul and its U.S. ally.
A massive military parade in Pyongyang on the eve of the just-opened Pyeongchang Games has been used as Exhibit A by skeptics. In it, Kim Jong Un highlighted several huge intercontinental ballistic missiles, which were successfully flight tested three times last year and could reach deep into the U.S. mainland when perfected.
Even so, there’s also cautious optimism, or curiosity at least. If peace isn’t imminent, a summit in Pyongyang between Moon and Kim Jong Un seems preferable to recent months’ threats.
Moon told Kim Yo Jong that the North and South should continue to build conditions for a summit, Moon spokesman Kim Eui-kyeom said. The U.S. and the North should quickly resume dialogue, he said.
The lunch Saturday at Seoul’s presidential mansion between Moon and Kim Yo Jong was the most significant diplomatic encounter between the rivals in years. The night before, Kim and other North Korean delegates attended the opening ceremony of the Olympics, watching a “unified” Korean team march under a banner showing an undivided Korean Peninsula.
In a surreal mixture of dignitaries, the Olympic Stadium’s VIP box included Kim Yo Jong and North Korea’s nominal head of state, Kim Yong Nam, sitting above and behind U.S. Vice President Mike Pence and fellow hard-liner Shinzo Abe, Japan’s prime minister. Pence and the Kims seemed to go out of their way not to acknowledge each other.
That was not the case with Moon—either at the games, when he enthusiastically reached up to shake Kim Yo Jong’s hand, or at the lunch the next day. South Korean television showed its smiling president entering a reception room Saturday and shaking hands with the North Koreans.
The opening part of the talks was mostly about the weather.
“You went through a lot of trouble braving the cold until late” last night, Moon told the North Koreans, referring to their attendance at the frigid opening ceremonies.
At the luncheon, Moon proposed a toast, calling for peace and “mutual prosperity” for the two Koreas. He then recalled his past visit to the North’s Diamond Mountain resort, where he and his mother met his North Korean aunt during a temporary reunion of families separated by the 1950-53 Korean War.
He also talked about visiting the North Korean border town of Kaesong, where the countries operated a joint factory park that had been a symbol of rapprochement before South Korea shut it down in 2016 after a North Korea nuclear test.