South Korea Tuesday proposed holding high-level talks with Pyongyang on January 9, after the North’s leader Kim Jong-Un called for a breakthrough in relations and said Pyongyang might attend the Winter Olympics.
Kim used his annual New Year address to underscore Pyongyang’s announcement that it has developed a weapons deterrent and warn that he had a “nuclear button” on hand, but sweetened his remarks by expressing an interest in dialogue and participating in the South’s Games.
South Korea’s unification minister Cho Myoung-Gyon said Seoul was “reiterating our willingness to hold talks with the North at any time and place in any form”.
“We hope that the South and North can sit face to face and discuss the participation of the North Korean delegation at the Pyeongchang Games as well as other issues of mutual interest for the improvement of inter-Korean ties,” he said at a press conference.
The two Koreas, which have been separated by a tense demilitarized zone since the end of the 1950-53 Korean war, last held high-level talks in 2015.
South Korean President Moon Jae-In, who has long favored engagement to defuse tension with the North, earlier Tuesday welcomed Kim’s suggestion that there could be an opportunity to kick-start dialogue.
However, he indicated that improvements in inter-Korean ties must go hand in hand with steps towards denuclearization.
Kim’s comments were the first indication of North Korea’s willingness to participate in the Winter Games, which run from February 9 to 25.
Moon called them a “positive response” to Seoul’s hope that the Pyeongchang Olympics would be a “groundbreaking opportunity for peace”.