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S. Korea sees 'groundbreaking' chance in talks with North

January 2, 2018

South Korea has suggested a meeting to talk about the North's participation in the Winter Olympics, claiming there is a "groundbreaking" chance to improve relations. North Korea's leader has also suggested dialogue.

South Korean President Moon Jae-In
Image: Reuters/Jung Yeon-Je

South Korea on Tuesday said an improvement in relations with the North must be linked to Pyongyang's nuclear program, but offered high-level diplomatic talks with the North on January 9.

"The improvement of relations between North and South Korea cannot go separately with resolving North Korea's nuclear program, so the foreign ministry should coordinate closely with allies and the international community regarding this," South Korean President Moon Jae-In said in a statement.

South Korea's Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon meanwhile proposed that the two sides meet in the village of Panmunjom in the demilitarized zone on January 9 to discuss North Korea's participation in the upcoming Pyeongchang Winter Olympics.

If the talks go ahead, they will mark the first meeting between the two governments in more than two years.

Read more: North Korea: From war to nuclear weapons

On Tuesday, Pyongyang's closest ally China said they greeted the "positive message" on possible talks.

"This is a good thing,"said spokesman Geng Shuang. "China welcomes and supports that both North Korea and South Korea take this as an opportunity to make effective efforts to improve their mutual relations and promote the relaxation of the situation on the peninsula and the denuclearization of the peninsula."

Careful steps towards rapprochement

On Monday, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un also suggested that both countries held talks, saying Seoul should stop seeking foreign countries' assistance to improve ties on the Korean Peninsula.

"We are ready to take various steps, including the dispatch of the delegation. To this end, the two Koreas can immediately meet," Kim said in his New Year's address, as reported South Korea's Yonhap news agency.

"The Winter Games to be held in South Korea will be a good occasion for the country. We sincerely hope that the Winter Olympics will be a success," Yonhap further reported Kim as saying. 

South Korea's Moon urged authorities to organize "follow-up measures to quickly restore … dialogue" between the two countries, saying he sees Kim's statement as a "groundbreaking chance" to improve relations and "establish peace."

In the same address, however, Kim also said that the United States should be aware that his country's nuclear forces were now a reality and not a mere threat. He stressed he had a "nuclear button" on his office desk.

South Korea welcomes Kim Jong Un's willingness to talk

'Peace' Olympics

South Korean officials have described the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics as an opportunity for "peace" on the Korean Peninsula before North Korea's leader announced the country's intention to send a delegation to the games.

Even before Kim's announcement, Moon said he did not expect North Korea to "do anything that may undermine the Olympics."

Tensions have been high on the Korean Peninsula since Pyongyang launched its most advanced ballistic missile in November, prompting criticism from the region and the international community.

The winter games are expected to take place in mid-February and last for the rest of the month.

ss,ls/rc (AP, Reuters, dpa, EFE)