North Korea offered to send athletes and a high-level delegation to the forthcoming Winter Olympics in the South on Tuesday as the rivals held their first official talks in more than two years after months of tensions over Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program.
Seoul urged that reunions of families divided by the 1950-53 Korean War — one of the most emotive legacies of the conflict — be held at the same time as the Games.
The talks were held in Panmunjom, the truce village in the Demilitarized Zone that splits the peninsula, with the North’s group walking over the Military Demarcation Line to the Peace House venue on the southern.
Looking businesslike, the South’s Unification minister Cho Myoung-Gyon and the North’s chief delegate Ri Son-Gwon shook hands at the entrance to the building, and again across the table.
In accordance with standard practice in the North, Ri wore a badge on his left lapel bearing an image of the country’s founding father Kim Il-Sung and his son and successor Kim Jong-Il. Cho also wore a lapel badge, depicting the South Korean flag.
As well as its athletes, the North proposed sending a high-level delegation, supporters, art performers and a taekwondo demonstration team to the Games, the South’s vice unification minster Chun Hae-Sung told journalists.
Seoul suggested the two sides march together at the opening ceremony, he added, and called for the resumption of family reunions, as well as Red Cross talks and military discussions to prevent “accidental clashes”.
“Let’s present the people with a precious new year’s gift,” said the North’s Ri. “There is a saying that a journey taken by two lasts longer than the one travelled alone.”
The atmosphere was friendlier than at past meetings, and Cho told him that Seoul believed “guests from the North are going to join many others from all around the world” at the Olympics.
“The people have a strong desire to see the North and South move toward peace and reconciliation,” he added