SEOUL, March 5 (Reuters) - A South Korean delegation led by senior security officials will leave for North Korea on Monday afternoon, a presidential official said, as they aim to bring Pyongyang and Washington to the table for dialogue.
The 10-member delegation, headed by National Security Office (NSO) head Chung Eui-yong, will depart South Korea at approximately 0500 GMT from Seoul Air Base in Seongnam City near Seoul, the official said on condition of anonymity.
Chung is expected to give brief remarks on his team’s pending visit to the North around 0230 GMT on Monday. He will be accompanied by National Intelligence Service (NIS) chief Suh Hoon and Vice Unification Minister Chun Hae-sung.
Thawing relations between North and South Korea have prompted speculation of future direct talks between Washington and Pyongyang after months of tension and exchanges of insults between Trump and the North Korean leader that have fuelled fears of war.
North Korea has not carried out any weapons tests since late November when it tested its largest intercontinental ballistic missile, while inter-Korean talks began after its leader Kim Jong Un stated in his New Year’s address he wanted to engage the South.
Since then, North Korea sent athletes to participate in the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics in February, as well as a high-ranking delegation that included Kim’s sister, Kim Yo Jong.
Both North Korea and the United States have expressed their willingness to talk to each other, but Washington demands Pyongyang “denuke” first, while the North says it will not sit with the United States under preconditions.
The South Korean officials will use a special direct flight to Pyongyang and not a chartered jet from a private airline.
The decision to use a special aircraft, most like one of the private military jets used by President Moon Jae-in according to administration sources, for the delegation was unrelated to U.S. sanctions that bar vessels and aircraft that have visited North Korea from entering the United States for six months, the official said.
However, the details of the delegation’s flight had already been negotiated with Washington regardless of the sanctions, added the officials.
Seoul had similar discussions with Washington earlier this year when it sent South Korean athletes and journalists for a joint skiing training session at the North’s Masikryong ski resort ahead of the Olympics. Then, the South Koreans had taken a chartered flight operated by Asiana Airlines Inc. (Reporting by Christine Kim; Editing by Michael Perry)