Officials in Seoul say North Korean leader Kim Jong Un hosted a dinner late Monday to welcome top aides of South Korean President Moon Jae-in, in the latest diplomatic effort that some hope will pave the way for direct talks between the U.S. and North Korea.
The 10-member South Korean delegation headed by Moon's top national security advisor, Chung Eui-Yong, arrived in Pyongyang after a rare direct flight from Seoul to convey Moon's message concerning denuclearization and a permanent peace on the Korean Peninsula.
Speaking to reporters in Seoul before his departure, Chung said that he would “deliver President Moon's strong determination and willingness for denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula, and making genuine and permanent peace (on the Peninsula)."
Chung also said he will push for "in-depth" talks to find ways to help arrange the restart of dialogue between Pyongyang and Washington.
"For this, we plan to have in-depth discussions not only on South-North talks, but also ways to continue talks between North Korea and the international community, including the United States," Chung said.
When asked about the South-North meeting, State Department Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs spokeswoman Katina Adams said Monday Washington is in close contact with Seoul on a "unified response to North Korea, including the need to maintain maximum pressure to achieve a denuclearized Korean peninsula."
"We are not going to make the same mistakes as previous administrations," Adams said in a statement. "We are willing to engage North Korea to emphasize our position that the complete and verifiable denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula is non-negotiable."
The State Department also announced Monday that U.S. and South Korea will begin negotiations this week on sharing the cost of stationing more than 28,000 American troops on the peninsula.
The current agreement that has Seoul paying almost half the costs expires at the end of this year.
The goal of a broader dialogue on North Korea could be complicated by planned military drills, however, as a commentary published by North Korea's official KCNA news agency warned that Pyongyang would "counter the U.S." if it holds the exercises with South Korea in April.
The special delegation the head of the National Intelligence Service, Suh Hoon, who is a veteran in dealings with the North. Hoon is known to have been deeply involved in negotiations to arrange two previous inter-Korean summits in 2000 and 2007.
After the two-day visit to North Korea, the South Korean special envoys will travel to the United States to brief American officials on their discussions in Pyongyang.
In sending his envoys to Pyongyang, Moon is seeking to reciprocate Kim Jong Un's decision to send a senior delegation, including his sister, Kim Yo Jong, to last month's Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang. Moon has yet to accept Kim Jong Un's invitation to visit Pyongyang.
Those North Korean officials told Moon they were willing to restart talks with the U.S., but President Donald Trump responded by saying talks will happen only “under the right conditions.''
VOA's State Department correspondent Nike Ching contributed to this report.