By sending Mr. Chung and Mr. Suh to Pyongyang, Mr. Moon was reciprocating the visit by Mr. Kim’s sister, Kim Yo-jong, who attended the Games’ opening ceremony. Ms. Kim also hand-delivered an invitation from Mr. Kim to Mr. Moon to visit the North for an inter-Korean summit meeting.
In Pyongyang, “the special envoys will have comprehensive talks with the North on creating the environment for North Korean-United States dialogue for denuclearization, as well as on improving inter-Korean relations,” said Mr. Yoon, the spokesman.
After returning to Seoul on Tuesday, the South Korean delegates will travel to Washington to brief the Trump administration on their discussions with the North Koreans, he said.
Mr. Moon has been eager to improve ties with North Korea since he took office last May. He has also appealed to the United States and North Korea to steer away from a collision course over the North’s nuclear weapons and missile programs and to ease tensions through dialogue.
But Washington and Pyongyang remained wide apart over the terms for starting such a dialogue, a gap that South Korea’s envoys will seek to narrow this week. Mr. Trump’s administration says it is determined not to repeat what it calls the mistakes of its predecessors, who tried both dialogue and sanctions but failed to stop the North’s nuclear program.
Administration officials have said that the United States will enter negotiations only after the North commits to discussing denuclearization. Even if talks begin, they say, the Trump administration will not relent in its campaign of “maximum” pressure until the North gives up its small nuclear arsenal.
But North Korea rejects any preconditions for talks. It says it will come to the negotiating table only if Washington treats it like an “equal” nuclear power. It also insists that any talks with Washington will have to deal not only with its nuclear program, but also with what it calls hostile American policies, such as joint military exercises with the South, which it says drove it to seek a nuclear deterrent in the first place.
South Korean officials said they have been in close consultations with their allies in Washington even as they have pursued talks with the North Koreans. This is seen in the choice of Mr. Chung, a retired diplomat, to lead the delegation to Pyongyang. As the South Korean counterpart to Gen. H.R. McMaster, Mr. Trump’s national security adviser, Mr. Chung has worked to coordinate American and South Korean approaches toward North Korea.
Mr. Suh, is a career intelligence officer who was involved in negotiations that led to the first inter-Korean summit meeting between Kim Jong-il, Mr. Kim’s father, and Kim Dae-jung, then the South Korean leader, in 2000. Mr. Suh was also involved in arranging a summit meeting in 2007 between the elder Mr. Kim, who died in 2011, and another previous South Korean president, Roh Moo-hyun.
Since inheriting power from his father six years ago, Kim Jong-un has met with envoys from allies like China and Cuba, as well as with personal guests, including the former American basketball star Dennis Rodman. But he has never met an envoy from South Korea.