North Korea has agreed to send a delegation to next month’s Winter Olympics in South Korea, the first notable breakthrough to come out of a face-to-face meeting Tuesday between North and South Korean officials.
In talks, held at the border village of Panmunjom or “truce village,” in the Korean peninsula’s heavily fortified demilitarized zone, North Korea negotiators agreed to send a “high-level delegation” comprising athletes, a cheering squad, an art troupe, a visitors’ group, a Taekwondo demonstration team and a press corps, South Korean Unification Ministry spokesman Chun Hae-sung told reporters in Seoul.
Seoul also proposed the two countries conduct military talks to prevent accidental conflict, the South Korean Unification Ministry said.
“We expressed the need to promptly resume dialogue for peace settlement, including denuclearization, and based on the mutual respect (the two Koreas) cooperate and stop activities that would raise tensions on the Korean Peninsula,” Chun said.
Tensions on the Korean Peninsula escalated last year, with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un overseeing significant advancements in Pyongyang’s nuclear and long-range missile technologies.
During the discussions Tuesday, South Korean negotiators also floated organizing reunifications for families separated during the Korean War — which is technically still ongoing, as no formal peace treaty has been signed.
Prior to Tuesday’s negotiations, analysts and Korea watchers had advised against getting too excited about these talks.
“I think prudence dictates that we be very cautious about these talks,” said Evans Revere, a former US diplomat in South Korea. “We’ve been down this road before … in almost every instance, ultimately we’ve been disappointed.”
In his annual New Year’s address last week — akin to the State of the Union speech in the United States — Kim appeared to extend a peace offering to his South Korean counterpart, Moon Jae-in. The young leader said he was willing to send a delegation to the quadrennial games taking place in the winter resort city of Pyeongchang in February. Kim called the games an “auspicious event” and said his country “earnestly wished” for them to be a success.
That speech touched off events that led to Tuesday’s high-level meeting, which is taking place at the Peace House in the Joint Security Area of Panmunjom. Panmunjom is the only part of the 250 kilometer (160 mile), heavily fortified demilitarized zone where North and South Korean soldiers stand face-to-face.
Both Moon and Kim are able to listen to the discussions in real time. Each will have a hotline at their disposal, direct to the Peace House.