US opposes Koreas’ plan for no-fly zone over border

South Korean president shares invitation to North Korea with Pope Francis

Pope Francis is ready to visit North Korea if its leader, Kim Jong-un, extends a formal invitation, South Korean President Moon Jae-in said on Thursday after meeting the pontiff, as the Vatican separately said a visit to Taiwan was not in the works.

Kim told Moon, a Catholic, of his wish to meet the pope during a meeting last month, and the South Korean leader announced before the trip he would relay the message.

According to the South Korean president's office, Francis expressed his strong support for efforts to bring peace to the Korean peninsula. "Do not be afraid".

An invitation for then-Pope John Paul II to visit the country after a 2000 inter-Korean summit never resulted in a meeting. There is little information on how many of its citizens are Catholic, or how they practice their faith.

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Following an unusually provocative run of weapons tests last year, Kim has been on a diplomatic offensive since the start of this year, which included the meeting with Moon and one with President Donald Trump. He held an unprecedented summit with a United States president when he met Donald Trump in Singapore in June, with the two leaders promising to work toward denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula. According to South Korea's Ministry of National Defense, the three parties discussed reducing the number of guard posts in the Demilitarised Zone (DMZ) between the two Koreas and further reducing the number of firearms authorised in the Joint Security Area (JSA), where military personnel from both sides are in close proximity.

Asked if Kim should send a formal invitation, Moon's office quoted the Pope as responding to Moon: 'your message is already sufficient but it would be good for him to send a formal invitation'.

"I will definitely answer if I get the invitation, and I can go", the president's office quoted the pope as saying.

North Korea strictly controls the religious activities of its people.

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In a separate statement, the Vatican said the Pope was not planning a trip to Taiwan.

The South Korean leader will later begin an official visit to the Vatican, where he will attend a special mass to be presided over by Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Parolin.

Moon, who is Catholic, wrote that when he traveled to Pyongyang in September for the summit, he was joined by a Korean Catholic bishop to try to improve relations between the church in North and South.

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