The two Koreas appear to be aiming at bringing an end to the decades-old conflict. Their peace overtures have received the backing of US President Donald Trump.
South Korea said on Wednesday it is considering how to change a decades-old armistice with North Korea into a peace agreement, as US officials confirmed an unprecedented top-level meeting with the North Korean leader.
US Secretary of State nominee and CIA Director Mike Pompeo became the most senior US official ever known to have met North Korean leader Kim Jong-un when Pompeo visited Pyongyang over a weekend at the end of March to discuss a planned summit with US President Donald Trump.
Pompeo's visit provided the strongest sign yet about Trump's willingness to become the first- serving US president ever to meet a North Korean leader.
At the same time, old rivals North Korea and South Korea are preparing for their own summit between Kim and South Korean President Moon Kae-in on April 27, with a bid to formally end the 1950-53 Korean War a major factor in talks.
"As one of the plans, we are looking at a possibility of shifting the Korean peninsula's armistice to a peace regime," a high-ranking South Korean presidential official told reporters when asked about the North-South summit.
End hostile acts
"We want to include discussions to end hostile acts between the South and North"
South Korea and a US-led UN force are technically still at war with North Korea after the Korean War ended with a truce, not a peace treaty.
Such discussions between the two Koreas, and between North Korea and the United States, would have been unthinkable at the end of last year, after months of escalating tension, and fear of war, over the North's nuclear and missile programmes.
But then North Korea's leader declared in a New Year’s speech his country was “a peace-loving and responsible nuclear power” and called for lower military tension and improved ties with the South.
He also said he was considering sending a delegation to the Winter Olympics in South Korea in February.
A visit by a high-level North Korean delegation to the Olympics began a succession of steps to improve ties.
Trump confirms talks
Trump confirmed the talks between the two Koreas, saying he backed efforts between them aimed at ending the state of war that has existed between their countries for so long.
"People don’t realise the Korean War has not ended," Trump told reporters.
"It’s going on right now. And they are discussing an end to the war. Subject to a deal, they have my blessing and they do have my blessing to discuss that."
Trump said he believed there was a lot of goodwill in the diplomatic push with North Korea, but added it was possible the summit – first proposed in March and which the president said could take place in late May or early June – may not happen.
He also said that the US and North Korea are holding direct talks at "extremely high levels" in preparation for a potential summit with Kim.
The meeting will be the third inter-Korean summit since the Koreas' 1945 division.
"They do have my blessing to discuss the end of the war," said Trump, who welcomed Abe to his Florida resort on Tuesday.
Trump is looking to hold his own summit with Kim in the next two months and said five locations are under consideration.
The proposed summit follows months of increasingly heated rhetoric over the North's nuclear weapons programme.
"We have had direct talks at very high levels – extremely high levels – with North Korea," Trump said.
"We'll either have a very good meeting or we won't have a good meeting," he added. "And maybe we won't even have a meeting at all depending on what's going in. But I think that there's a great chance to solve a world problem."
If the summit did not happen, the US and its allies would maintain pressure on Pyongyang through sanctions, he said.
Nevertheless, Pompeo's conversations in North Korea had fuelled Trump’s belief that productive negotiations were possible with North Korea over its nuclear and ballistic missile programmes, but far from guaranteed, according to a US senior official briefed on the trip.
The visit, a second US official said, was arranged by South Korean intelligence chief Suh Hoon with his North Korean counterpart, Kim Yong- chol, and was intended to assess whether Kim was prepared to hold serious talks.
South Korean officials declined to comment on Pompeo's visit.