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Rival Koreas discuss possible leaders' summit in Pyongyang

South Korean Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon, left, shakes hands with his North Korean counterpart Ri Son Gwon during their meeting at the northern side of Panmunjom in the Demilitarized Zone, North Korea, on Aug. 13, 2018. (Korea Pool/Yonhap via AP)

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) -- A senior North Korean official suggested Monday that the leaders of North and South Korea may meet in Pyongyang, as envoys from the rival nations discussed setting a summit date and venue amid an ongoing nuclear standoff.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, who first met in April in a highly publicized summit and then again in May for more informal talks, previously agreed to meet again sometime in the fall in Pyongyang but released no concrete details.

"The discussions about the North and South Korea leaders' meeting in Pyongyang are underway," Ri Son Gwon, chairman of the North Korean agency that deals with inter-Korean affairs, told the South Korean delegation in opening remarks Monday, according to pool reports. Ri compared the Koreas to very close friends with an unbreakable bond.

The meeting at a North Korea-controlled building in the border village of Panmunjom comes amid growing worries about whether North Korea will begin abandoning its nuclear weapons, something officials suggested would happen after Kim's summit with President Donald Trump in June in Singapore.

North Korea is thought to have a growing arsenal of nuclear bombs and long-range missiles and to be closing in on the ability to reliably target anywhere on the U.S. mainland. A string of North Korean weapons tests last year, during which Pyongyang claimed to have completed its nuclear arsenal, had many in Asia worried that Washington and Pyongyang were on the brink of war.

The South Korean delegation for Monday's talks is led by Cho Myoung-gyon, who oversees Seoul's Unification Ministry, which handles inter-Korean issues, and includes Nam Gwan-pyo, a Moon aide responsible for North Korean nuclear matters.

"We will listen to the North's stance on the inter-Korean summit for this fall, which is agreed upon in the Panmunjom declaration, and share our views," Cho told reporters before heading to the border, referring to the agreement at the April summit.

North Korea, which proposed Monday's talks last week, also sent officials overseeing past inter-Korean economic collaborations.

The meeting between Seoul and Pyongyang comes as experts see slow progress on efforts to disarm North Korea since the Singapore summit.

Pyongyang has urged Washington to reciprocate its goodwill gestures, which include suspending missile and nuclear tests and returning the remains of Americans who fought in the Korean War. Washington, which cancelled an annual joint military exercise with South Korea that had taken place in August in previous years, has refused to ease sanctions until North Korea finally and fully denuclearizes.

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