Seoul offers high-level talks with North Korea over Winter Olympics
South Korea has proposed talks next week in order to arrange North Korean athletes’ participation in the upcoming Winter Olympic Games.
The proposal was announced on Tuesday by Cho Myoung-gyon, head of Seoul’s Unification Ministry, in response to comments by Kim Jong-un, the North Korean leader, in his New Year’s address.
“We sincerely hope that the Winter Games will be a success”, Mr Kim said in his televised speech on Monday. “We are willing to take various steps, including the dispatch of the delegation”.
Pyongyang had previously ignored all efforts by the South to confirm that it would be sending athletes to the Games, which run for 14 days from February 9.
Moon Jae-in, the South Korean president, has welcomed Mr Kim’s comments as a breakthrough in strained North-South ties.
“I view Chairman Kim Jong-un’s remarks about sending a North Korean delegation to the Pyeongchang Olympics and holding government-level dialogue as a response to our proposal to turn the Pyeongchang Olympic Games into a groundbreaking chance to improve South-North relations and establish peace”, Yonhap news quoted Mr Moon as saying.
Seoul has proposed that the discussions take place on Tuesday at Panmunjom, the truce village that sits on the border in the middle of the Demilitarised Zone.
Yet the media and political analysts have warned the South Korean government to remain wary of Pyongyang’s motivation for agreeing to talks.
A report by the Institute for National State Security has said Seoul’s delegation at the talks is likely to be told that North Korea will only consent to taking part in the Games if the South unilaterally lifts sanctions on the North, resumes cross-border economic projects and provides financial assistance.
Pyongyang could also demand that the South halt all military drills with US forces and that Washington withdraws units from the Korean Peninsula.
In an editorial, The Korea Herald described the North’s offer as a “double-edged message”.
“South Korea needs to make a measured response focused on thawing frozen inter-Korean relations. It also needs fostering an atmosphere for dialogue toward the de-nuclearisation of the North”.
“The South also must not … lower its guard to prevent it from playing into the North’s hands.
“It is questionable whether Kim made the overture to send a delegation to the Olympics out of pure intentions”.
Kim Jong-un extends olive branch
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un spoke about the games during his annual New Year’s Day address, saying his country might meet South Korean officials to discuss sending a Northern delegation to Pyeongchang during the competition next month.
On the same day that North Korea wished success for the upcoming 2018 Winter Games in South Korea, Olympic leaders expressed confidence that the global sporting event can reach “beyond all political division.”
“We know about the political tensions on the Korean Peninsula,” Bach said in a statement. But, he said: “The Olympic Games are about dialogue. They are a symbol of hope and peace.”
The Winter Olympics, which will take place not far from the demilitarised zone separating the North from the South, begin in early February.
The North missed the October 30 deadline to confirm its participation, although its pairs figure skaters, Ryom Tae-ok and Kim Ju-sik, had qualified.