SEOUL (Reuters) - South Korea plans to send a special envoy to North Korea in response to an invitation from leader Kim Jong Un, South Korean President Moon Jae-in told his U.S. counterpart Donald Trump in a phone call on Thursday.

 

The two presidents discussed recent visits to the south by high-level North Korean officials, the South Korean presidential Blue House said in a statement.

 

The Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang last month gave a boost to recent engagement between the two Koreas after more than a year of sharply rising tensions over the North’s missile program and its sixth and largest nuclear test in defiance of U.N. sanctions.

 

"(Moon and Trump) agreed to continue to make efforts to head toward the Korean peninsula's denuclearisation by maintaining the momentum of South-North dialogue," the Blue House statement said.

 

In Washington, a White House statement on the two leaders' call said Moon briefed Trump "on developments regarding North Korea and inter-Korean talks" but did not elaborate.

"The president wants to continue working with South Korea. It's a strong ally. We have no daylight between the two of us. We're going to continue those conversations," White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders told reporters later in the day.

"The ultimate goal is to denuclearize the peninsula. That's what we're focused on and we're excited about any steps moving forward in that process."

In sending an envoy to Pyongyang, Moon said he would be seeking to reciprocate for the senior delegations dispatched to the Olympics by Kim Jong Un, including his sister, Kim Yo Jong, the first visit by a member of the North’s ruling bloodline since the 1950-53 Korean War.

Senior officials from Pyongyang visiting South Korea for the Olympics said on Sunday their government was open to talks with the United States, while the White House said any talks with North Korea must lead to an end to its nuclear program.

Moon has urged North Korea and the United States to talk to resolve the issue of Pyongyang's weapons program, which Kim has said he will never abandon.

In the latest attempt to defuse the crisis over North Korea's weapons program, Seoul urged Washington and Pyongyang to give ground to allow for talks.

"Both leaders agreed to continue close consultations on the progress of South-North Korea dialogue that will go on," the statement said.

(Reporting by Ju-min Park and Josh Smith in Seoul and Doina Chiacu in Washington; Editing by Cynthia Osterman and James Dalgleish)