North Korea has named its delegation for a rare high-level meeting with the South this week, the unification ministry in Seoul said Sunday, as Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe cautiously welcomed the talks.
The two Koreas agreed Friday to hold their first official dialogue in more than two years and are expected to discuss the North’s participation in next month’s Winter Olympics in South Korea.
The North Korean delegation for Tuesday’s meeting in the border truce village of Panmunjom will be led by Ri Son-Gwon, head of the North’s agency handling inter-Korean affairs, the ministry said.
Pyongyang informed the South that four other officials will accompany Ri, it added, including those in charge of sports.
The tentative rapprochement comes after the North’s leader Kim Jong-Un warned in his New Year speech that he had a nuclear button on his desk, but also said Pyongyang could send a team to the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics.
Seoul responded with an offer of talks and last week the hotline between the neighbors was restored after being suspended for almost two years.
The message comes a day after South Korea suggested Unification Minister Cho Myoung-Gyon would lead its delegation for the upcoming talks.
Kim said in his New Year speech that his country wished success for the Olympics, to be held from February 9-25, while Seoul and Washington have decided to delay their annual joint military drills — which always infuriate the North — until after the Games.
The Japanese prime minister voiced cautious hopes for the talks but stressed that having a meeting for the sake of a meeting would be a waste.
“The Olympics is a celebration of peace. I want to recognize that change,” Abe said in a recorded interview aired Sunday on national broadcaster NHK.
His comments came as US President Donald Trump went a step further and said he was open to holding direct talks with Kim under certain conditions.
The two Koreas have been separated by the world’s most heavily militarized border since the Korean War ended in a stalemate in 1953.
In recent months, the North has held multiple missile launches and its sixth and most powerful nuclear test — purportedly of a hydrogen bomb — in violation of UN resolutions.
Abe, who long has taken hawkish stance against the hermit state, said Japan must upgrade its defense capacity in the face of the North’s missile threats.
He reiterated the importance of “maximizing pressure” on Pyongyang in order to force Kim’s regime to change its policies and said North Korea had violated past agreements designed to stop its nuclear programs, adding: “We cannot afford to be fooled again.”