High-Ranking North Korean Officials Visit South Korea for Rare Talks

Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images(PYONGYANG, North Korea) — North Korea’s three officials closest to its leader Kim Jong-un made a surprise visit to South Korea on Saturday, signaling an ease of tensions on the Korean Peninsula.

The highest level visit in five years was announced by the South’s government only an hour before the delegation arrived at Incheon International Airport on Kim’s personal presidential, Russian-made aircraft.

Pyongyang’s 11-member delegation was led by Hwang Pyong So, 66, who – with five promotions this year alone – has become the second most powerful official after Kim.  He is the top political officer for the Korean People’s Army, the vice chairman of the powerful National Defense Commission and the vice marshal of the army.

The delegation also included Choe Ryong-hae, who had been the North’s second most powerful official until Hwang replaced him, and Kim Yang-gon, a top Communist Party official who had orchestrated numerous North-South high level talks in the past.

The delegation talked with South Korean Unification Minister Ryoo Kihl-jae and national security director Kim Kwan-jin. Unification Ministry spokesman Lim Byeong Cheol told reporters that there were no plans for the North Koreans to meet with President Park.

Details of the lunch meeting were not made public except that the two sides agreed to more talks at the end of this month or in November.

Hwang and his entourage attended the closing ceremony of the Asian Games later in the evening.

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