N Korea holds talks with Seoul, agrees to be part of Winter Games

RSTV Bureau
Paju: South Korean Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon, left, poses with head of North Korean delegation Ri Son Gwon while shaking hands during their meeting at the Panmunjom in the Demilitarized Zone in Paju, South Korea, Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2018. PTI/AP

Paju: South Korean Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon, left, poses with head of North Korean delegation Ri Son Gwon while shaking hands during their meeting at the Panmunjom in the Demilitarized Zone in Paju, South Korea, Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2018.
PTI/AP

North Korea has offered to send athletes and a high-level delegation to the forthcoming Winter Olympics in the South as the rivals held their first official talks on Tuesday in more than two years after months of tensions over Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons programme.

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 side.

Along with 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.”

File photo of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un,

File photo of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un,

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.

It was a radically different tone from the rhetoric of recent months, which have seen the North’s leader Kim Jong-Un and US President Donald Trump trade personal insults and threats of war, while Pyongyang has launched missiles capable of reaching the US mainland and carried out its sixth and most powerful nuclear test to date.

Kim indicated in his New Year’s speech that the North could take part in the Games and Seoul responded with an offer of high-level dialogue. Last week the hotline between the neighbours was restored after being suspended for almost two years.

Issues still to be settled include the question of joint entrances to the opening and closing ceremonies, the size of the delegation and their accommodation — widely expected to be paid for by Seoul — as well as any linked discussions.

A high-level delegation accompanying the team could include Kim’s younger sister Yo-Jong, who is a senior member of the ruling Workers’ Party, according to South Korean reports.

(With inputs from Agencies)