S. Koreans may visit North again ahead of first summit in decade

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While tensions have occasionally flared, the two sides have so far staved off another devastating conflict.

In a sign of closer ties, a Chinese art troupe, led by Song Tao, the head of the worldwide department at the Central Committee of the Communist Party, arrived in Pyongyang on Friday for the April Spring Friendship Art Festival.

In pictures released by state media from a ballet performance late on Monday, Kim and his wife, Ri Sol Ju, were seen applauding, posing with dancers, and laughing with the head of the Chinese Communist Party's global liaison department, Song Tao.

Minister Abdrakhmanov made the statement after the meeting with his South Korean colleague Kang Kyung-wha in Astana on April 17 and ahead of the historic summit between the Republic of Korea and the DPRK set to be held on April 27.

The South Korean presidential chief of staff, Im Jong-seok, said on Tuesday that discussions will focus on fundamental issues - denuclearizing North Korea, establishing permanent peace on the Korean Peninsula and improving inter-Korean ties. Song, however, greeted Kim when he arrived in the Chinese border city of Dandong last month.

Talks are underway about a possible visit by Xi to Pyongyang in June after the inter-Korean summit and North Korea-US summit, the Yomiuri Shimbun reported Monday, quoting Chinese and North Korean sources.

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Their rapidly warming ties fuel concerns that the worldwide sanctions regime against North Korea might be undermined.

Kim made a surprise trip to the Chinese capital to meet Xi in late March and invited him to visit Pyongyang.

Reclusive North Korea is pursuing nuclear and missile programmes in defiance of UN Security Council sanctions and has made no secret of its plans to develop a missile capable of hitting the U.S. mainland.

China, North Korea's traditional ally and biggest trading partner, has backed global sanctions against the reclusive regime over a series of nuclear and missile tests by the North, which had frayed their relations.

Kim, in a meeting with Song on Sunday, said he was personally meeting the visiting performers out of respect for Chinese President Xi Jinping and said he wanted to launch a "fresh phase of development" of relations between their countries.