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North Korea agrees to send athletes to Winter Olympics as talks begin with South

North Korea agreed to send a high level delegation to the South Korean Winter Olympics on Tuesday after the neighbouring countries held their first diplomatic talks in over two years.

Pyongyang will allow athletes, cheering and performing art squads and taekwondo demonstration teams to attend games, which begin on February 9 in the resort of Pyeongchang.

In a further sign of a possible détente, South Korea proposed a reunion of families who have been divided by the militarised border on the Korean Peninsula, requesting it take place around the Lunar New Year of February 16.

Negotiators began talks about 10am local time in the Panmunjom “truce village” which straddles the heavily fortified border between the South and North.

The tentative diplomatic thaw between the two sides has raised hopes of an eventual easing of tensions over Kim Jong-un’s nuclear weapons programme.

North Korean delegation led by Ri Son Gwon, Chairman of the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Country (CPRC) of DPRK, leave after their meeting at the truce village of Panmunjom

Credit:
 REUTERS

The meeting reportedly began in a jovial manner. Earlier, the North’s lead negotiator Ri Son Gwon, considered to be a regime hardliner, promised a “precious” New Year’s gift and “serious and sincere” talks. “They will go well,” he said.

His counterpart from the South, Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon, said he would “handle the meeting calmly without being hasty to make the Pyeongchang Olympics and Paralympics a peaceful event, and make it a good first step to improve inter-Korean relations.”

The first round of talks broke up around midday but are planned to resume in the afternoon.

The initial focus of the agenda was North Korea’s expected participation in the February 9-25 Olympics and March 8-18 Paralympics in the South Korean ski village of Pyeongchang. It was reported that the two countries agreed to walk together during the opening ceremony.

Kim Jong-un seen on television in South Korea delivering his new year message

Credit:
AFP

Both South Korean President Moon Jae-in and Kim are able to listen in on the discussions and intervene if needed.

Prior to the talks, Mr Moon’s government indicated that it did not know what North Korea’s main goals.

The US administration admitted it was equally in the dark about Pyongyang’s true intentions ahead of the meeting, Brian Hook, a senior adviser to Rex Tillerson, US Secretary of State, told reporters on Tuesday.

After a year of sabre-rattling on the Korean peninsula over Kim Jong-un’s nuclear and missiles programme, which have ignited fears of war, it is still unclear if Tuesday’s discussions will mark a turning point in Pyongyang’s wider relationship with Seoul and the international community.

Anti-North Korea activists stage a demonstration against the inter-Korean talks, in Seoul

Credit:
 AFP

“The Secretary [of State] believes it is premature to judge whether this is the beginning of something. What we don’t know is what North Korea is going to bring to these discussions,” said Mr Hook.

“The way we look at it is that it’s a start and we believe that if something could come out of those talks it would be a good thing but we expect that it will be mostly focussed around the Olympics.”

The tentative rapprochement between North and South Korea was discussed by Mr Tillerson and Mr Trump at Camp David over the weekend.

Head of the North Korean delegation, Ri Son Gwon talks with his South Korean counterpart Cho Myoung-gyon during their meeting at the truce village of Panmunjom

Credit:
 REUTERS

The President called the talks a “big start”, saying he hoped for progress, in a marked shift of tone to his tweets earlier in the week when he had boasted that he had a “bigger nuclear button” that Kim Jong-un.

However, American and Japanese officials have also sought reassurances from South Korea that the discussions will not undermine United Nations sanctions aimed at pressuring Kim to give up his nuclear weapons ambitions.

Some experts remain sceptical about Pyongyang’s latest move, believing that its purpose is to drive a wedge between Seoul and Washington, and that the North may try to make unreasonable demands like a moratorium on joint US-South Korea military drills.

“As President Moon has said, the improvement of relations between North and South Korea cannot advance separately from resolving North Korea’s nuclear programme,” Mr Hook underlined.

“And so we remain focussed on our global pressure campaign. That campaign is designed to bring Kim Jong-un to the table for meaningful negotiations,” he said.

“Our policy, our end stage of the pressure campaign, remains the complete verifiable, irreversible denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula.”

Article Source : http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2018/01/09/north-south-korea-begin-first-direct-talks-two-years/

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