North Korea agrees to high-level talks: South
North Korea has agreed to hold high-level talks with South Korea next week, Seoul says, increasing hopes of a peaceful end to a long-running military standoff that also involves the United States.
The South Korean Unification Ministry, which oversees relations with the North, said Friday that Pyongyang had officially informed Seoul of the decision.
“North Korea this morning faxed a message to our side, saying it accepts the South’s proposal for talks on January 9,” a ministry official told AFP.
Officials from the two countries will meet in Panmunjom, the truce village located within the heavily fortified Demilitarized Zone that divides the Korean Peninsula.
Ministry spokesman Baek Tae-Hyun told journalists that the agenda would include the Winter Olympics “and the issue of improving inter-Korean relations.”
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un had indicated in his New Year message that while there was always a nuclear button on his desk, Pyongyang was ready to make a fresh start and send a team to the upcoming Winter Olympics, which will be held in the South Korean city of Pyeongchang on February 9.
Seoul responded by offering to hold talks. As a result of the tentative rapprochement, the hotline between the two sides was restored after almost two years of simmering tensions between the neighbors.
The tensions peaked last year, when the South held a number of military drills off Korean waters in response to the North’s ballistic missile launches and its sixth atomic test, which was also its most powerful to date.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in said last Thursday that he had asked his American counterpart Donald Trump to delay new joint military drills — which the North condemned as “invasion rehearsals” — until after the Pyeongchang games.
Trump does not think highly of a diplomatic solution and is bent on resolving differences with Kim through economic pressure in the form of UN sanctions or even military confrontation.
Earlier on Thursday, he said in a tweet that it was his tough stance that pushed Pyongyang and Seoul towards talks.
In response to the North Korean leader’s nuclear button remarks, Trump had said his nuclear button “is a much bigger and more powerful one.”