A day after North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un showed interest in dialogue with the South, Seoul has proposed to hold high-level talks with Pyongyang on January 9.
In his annual New Year address Kim expressed an interest in dialogue and said Pyongyang may send a delegation for the Winter Games, scheduled to be held in Pyeongchang from February 9 to 25.
South Korea’s unification minister Cho Myoung-Gyon said Seoul was “reiterating our willingness to hold talks with the North at any time and place in any form”.
“We hope that the South and North can sit face to face and discuss the participation of the North Korean delegation at the Pyeongchang Games as well as other issues of mutual interest for the improvement of inter-Korean ties,” he added.
Kim also used his annual to underscore Pyongyang’s claim that it has developed a weapons deterrent and warn that he had a “nuclear button” on hand.
The two Koreas, which have been separated by a tense demilitarised zone since the end of the 1950-53 Korean war, last held high-level talks in 2015.
South Korean President Moon Jae-In, who has long favoured engagement to defuse tension with the North, earlier Tuesday welcomed Kim’s suggestion that there could be an opportunity to kick-start dialogue.
However, he indicated that improvements in inter-Korean ties must go hand in hand with steps towards de-nuclearisation.
Moon proposed Red Cross and military talks last year, but his requests were not answered by Pyongyang.
Moon called them a “positive response” to Seoul’s hope that the Pyeongchang Olympics would be a “groundbreaking opportunity for peace”.
In his speech Kim had said the Olympics could provide a reason for officials from the neighbours “to meet in the near future”.
The North has rattled the international community in recent months with multiple missile launches and its sixth and most powerful nuclear test — purportedly of a hydrogen bomb. Pyongyang has also shrugged off a raft of new sanctions and heightened rhetoric from the United States. The North also claims that its weapons programme is defensive and is aimed at developing a warhead capable of targeting the US mainland.
(With inputs from agencies)