North Korea to join Olympics in South Korea as tensions ease

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North Korea to join Olympics in South Korea as tensions ease
North Korea to join Olympics in South Korea as tensions ease

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) – The rival Koreas took steps toward reducing their bitter animosity during rare talks Tuesday, as North Korea agreed to send a delegation to next month’s Winter Olympics in South Korea, hold talks on lowering tension along their border and reopen a military hotline.

The meeting, the first of its kind in about two years, was arranged after North Korean leader Kim Jong Un made an abrupt push for improved ties with South Korea following a year of elevated tensions with the outside world over his expanding nuclear and missile programs. Critics say Kim may be trying to divide Seoul and Washington in a bid to weaken international pressure and sanctions on the North.

“I think we took an important first step toward the development of South-North relations,” chief South Korean delegate Cho Myoung-gyon said after the talks, according to media footage from the border village of Panmunjom, the venue.

Cho’s North Korean counterpart, Ri Son Gwon, read a joint statement in which the two Koreas agreed to “actively cooperate” in the Pyeongchang Olympics to “enhance the prestige of the Korean people.”

He said North Korea will send a delegation of officials, athletes, cheerleaders and journalists and South Korea will provide necessary services for the delegation.

“I believe that North Korea’s participation in the Pyeongchang Games will provide us with a chance to reduce tension on the Korean Peninsula,” said Cho, whose official title is unification minister.

During an earlier era of inter-Korean detente, athletes from the two Koreas paraded together at international sports events such as the Olympics and fielded a unified Korean team. The government of current South Korean President Moon Jae-in wants the two Koreas to agree to similar reconciliatory steps at the Feb. 9-25 Pyeongchang Games.

North Korea is weak in winter sports and a pair of figure skaters, Ryom Tae Ok and Kim Ju Sik, earlier became the only North Korean athletes to qualify for the Pyeongchang Games before the North missed a confirmation deadline. The International Olympic Committee said Monday it has “kept the door open” for North Korea to take part in the games.

North Korea also agreed to hold military talks with South Korea aimed at reducing animosity along their tense border and to restore a military hotline communication channel, according to Cho and Ri.

The restoration of the hotline was the second in about a week. All major inter-Korean communication channels had been shut down amid animosity over the North’s nuclear program in recent years.

Cho said South Korea also called for talks at an early date on denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula to promote peace. He said the two Koreas would continue high-level talks but didn’t say when the next meeting would take place.

South Korean officials earlier said they also suggested resuming temporary reunions of families separated by war. But the joint statement didn’t mention such reunions.

The countries have a long history of failing to follow through with rapprochement accords. In 2015, negotiators met for nearly 40 hours before announcing a deal to pull back from a military standoff caused by land mine blasts that maimed two South Korean soldiers. But animosities flared again several months later after the North’s fourth nuclear test.

The meeting’s venue, Panmunjom, is the only place on the tense border where North and South Korean soldiers are just meters (feet) away from each other. A North Korean soldier in November defected to the South across Panmunjom amid a hail of bullets fired by his comrades. He was hit five times but survived.

An agreement on the North’s Olympic participation had been widely expected before the talks began, but the Koreas appeared to remain sharply at odds over how to improve their overall ties.

North Korea was expected to demand rewards in return for South Korea’s proposal of family reunions, such as a halt to South Korean propaganda broadcasts and a scaling back or halting of military drills with the U.S. It wasn’t immediately clear whether the North made such a demand.

Suspension of the military drills would be unacceptable for Seoul because it would seriously undermine its alliance with its chief ally, the United States, which wants to put more pressure on North Korea. The North views the drills as a rehearsal for an invasion.

U.S. President Donald Trump on Saturday expressed hope for some progress from the talks and said he was open to talking with Kim himself. But U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley later said the U.S. administration isn’t changing its conditions regarding talks with North Korea, saying Kim first needs to stop weapons testing for a “significant amount of time.”

In his New Year’s Day address, Kim said he was willing to send a delegation to the Pyeongchang Games. He urged Seoul to halt the military drills with the U.S. and said he has a “nuclear button” to launch missiles at any target in the United States. Moon welcomed Kim’s outreach and proposed the talks at Panmunjom.

Trump and Kim traded bellicose rhetoric and crude insults last year, as North Korea conducted it sixth and most powerful nuclear detonation and three tests of intercontinental ballistic missiles.

South Korean Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon, left, shakes hands with the head of North Korean delegation Ri Son Gwon before their meeting at the Panmunjom in the Demilitarized Zone in Paju, South Korea, Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2018. South Korean media said North and South Korea have begun talks at their border about how to cooperate in next month’s Winter Olympics and how to improve their long-strained ties. (Korea Pool/Yonhap via AP)
The head of North Korean delegation Ri Son Gwon, right, exchanges documents with South Korean Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon after their meeting at Panmunjom in the Demilitarized Zone in Paju, South Korea, Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2018. The rival Koreas took steps toward reducing their bitter animosity during rare talks Tuesday, as North Korea agreed to send a delegation to next month’s Winter Olympics in South Korea and reopen a military hotline. (Korea Pool/Yonhap via AP)
South Korean Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon, left, shakes hands with the head of the North Korean delegation Ri Son Gwon after their meeting at Panmunjom in the Demilitarized Zone in Paju, South Korea, Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2018. The rival Koreas took steps toward reducing their bitter animosity during rare talks Tuesday, as North Korea agreed to send a delegation to next month’s Winter Olympics in South Korea and reopen a military hotline. (Korea Pool/Yonhap via AP)
South Korean Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon, right, and head of North Korean delegation Ri Son Gwon, left, arrive to hold their meeting at the Panmunjom in the Demilitarized Zone in Paju, South Korea, Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2018. Senior officials from the rival Koreas said Tuesday they would try to achieve a breakthrough in their long-strained ties as they sat for rare talks at the border to discuss how to cooperate in next month’s Winter Olympics in the South and other issues. (Korea Pool via AP)
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. Senior officials from the rival Koreas said Tuesday they would try to achieve a breakthrough in their long-strained ties as they sat for rare talks at the border to discuss how to cooperate in next month’s Winter Olympics in the South and other issues. (Korea Pool via AP)
Head of North Korean delegation Ri Son Gwon, center, is greeted by South Korean officials after he crosses the border line to attend their meeting at Panmunjom in the Demilitarized Zone in Paju, South Korea, Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2018. North Korea agreed Tuesday to send a delegation to next month’s Winter Olympics in South Korea, Seoul officials said, as the bitter rivals sat for rare talks at the border to discuss how to cooperate in the Olympics and improve their long-strained ties. (Korea Pool via AP)
A North Korean delegation leaves for the south side as South Korean army soldiers stand guard at the demarcation line in Panmunjom in the Demilitarized Zone in Paju, South Korea, Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2018. North Korea agreed Tuesday to send a delegation to next month’s Winter Olympics in South Korea, Seoul officials said, as the bitter rivals sat for rare talks at the border to discuss how to cooperate in the Olympics and improve their long-strained ties. (Korea Pool/Yonhap via AP)
People watch a TV screen showing South Korean Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon, left, meets with the head of North Korean delegation Ri Son Gwon before talks, at Seoul Railway Station in Seoul, South Korea, Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2018. Senior officials from North and South Korea began the rivals’ first formal talks in about two years Tuesday to discuss how to cooperate in next month’s Winter Olympics in the South and how to improve their long-strained ties. The letters on the screen read: “South and North Korea begin a meeting at 10 o’clock .” (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)
Visitors walk by a map of two Koreas showing North Korea’s capital Pyongyang and South Korea’s capital Seoul at the Imjingak Pavilion in Paju, South Korea, Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2018. North Korea agreed Tuesday to send a delegation to next month’s Winter Olympics in South Korea, Seoul officials said, as the bitter rivals sat for rare talks at the border to discuss how to cooperate in Olympics and improve their long-strained ties. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)
North Korean delegation head Ri Son Gwon, third from left, with his delegates leaves after a morning session of their meeting with South Korea at the Panmunjom in the Demilitarized Zone in Paju, South Korea, Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2018. North Korea agreed Tuesday to send a delegation to next month’s Winter Olympics in South Korea, Seoul officials said, as the bitter rivals sat for rare talks at the border to discuss how to cooperate in Olympics and improve their long-strained ties. (Korea Pool via AP)
FILE – In this Friday, Sept. 29, 2017, file photo, Ryom Tae Ok and Kim Ju Sik of North Korea compete during the pairs free program at the Figure Skating-ISU Challenger Series in Oberstdorf, Germany. South Korea said on Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2018, that North Korea has agreed to send a delegation that would include officials, athletes, cheerleaders and journalists, to next month’s Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang in the South. (AP Photo/Matthias Schrader, File)
FILE – In this Friday, Sept. 29, 2017, file photo, Ryom Tae Ok and Kim Ju Sik of North Korea compete during the pairs free program at the Figure Skating-ISU Challenger Series in Oberstdorf, Germany. South Korea said on Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2018, that North Korea has agreed to send a delegation that would include officials, athletes, cheerleaders and journalists, to next month’s Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang in the South. (AP Photo/Matthias Schrader, File)
FILE – In this Friday, Sept. 29, 2017, file photo, Ryom Tae Ok and Kim Ju Sik of North Korea compete during the pairs free program at the Figure Skating-ISU Challenger Series in Oberstdorf, Germany. South Korea said on Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2018, that North Korea has agreed to send a delegation that would include officials, athletes, cheerleaders and journalists, to next month’s Winter Olympics in the Pyeongchang in the South. (AP Photo/Matthias Schrader, File)
South Korean protesters stage a rally against North Korea’s nuclear program near U.S. Embassy in Seoul, South Korea, Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2018. Senior officials from the rival Koreas said Tuesday that they would try to achieve a breakthrough in their long-strained ties as they sat for rare talks at the border to discuss how to cooperate in next month’s Winter Olympics in the South and other issues. The placards read: “We oppose South and North Korean talks without North Korea giving up nuclear program.” (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)
South Korean protesters stage a rally against North Korea’s nuclear program near U.S. Embassy in Seoul, South Korea, Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2018. Senior officials from the rival Koreas said Tuesday that they would try to achieve a breakthrough in their long-strained ties as they sat for rare talks at the border to discuss how to cooperate in next month’s Winter Olympics in the South and other issues. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)
South Korean protesters stage a rally against North Korea’s nuclear program near U.S. Embassy in Seoul, South Korea, Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2018. Senior officials from the rival Koreas said Tuesday that they would try to achieve a breakthrough in their long-strained ties as they sat for rare talks at the border to discuss how to cooperate in next month’s Winter Olympics in the South and other issues. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)
Visitors use binoculars to see the north side at the Imjingak Pavilion in Paju, South Korea, Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2018. Senior officials from the rival Koreas said Tuesday they would try to achieve a breakthrough in their long-strained ties as they sat for rare talks at the border to discuss how to cooperate in next month’s Winter Olympics in the South and other issues. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)
Visitors take souvenir photos near the South Korean national flags at the Imjingak Pavilion in Paju, South Korea, Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2018. Senior officials from the rival Koreas said Tuesday they would try to achieve a breakthrough in their long-strained ties as they sat for rare talks at the border to discuss how to cooperate in next month’s Winter Olympics in the South and other issues. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)
A visitor watches the north side through the glass showing a map of the border area between North and South Koreas at the Imjingak Pavilion in Paju, South Korea, Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2018. Senior officials from the rival Koreas said Tuesday they would try to achieve a breakthrough in their long-strained ties as they sat for rare talks at the border to discuss how to cooperate in next month’s Winter Olympics in the South and other issues. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)
A visitor uses binoculars to see the North Korea side from the unification observatory in Paju, South Korea, Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2018. Senior officials from the rival Koreas said Tuesday they would try to achieve a breakthrough in their long-strained ties as they sat for rare talks at the border to discuss how to cooperate in next month’s Winter Olympics in the South and other issues. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)
A visitor walks by the wire fence decorated with ribbons carrying messages to wish for the reunification of the two Koreas at the Imjingak Pavilion in Paju, South Korea, Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2018. Senior officials from the rival Koreas said Tuesday they would try to achieve a breakthrough in their long-strained ties as they sat for rare talks at the border to discuss how to cooperate in next month’s Winter Olympics in the South and other issues. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)
Head of North Korean delegation Ri Son Gwon speaks during a meeting with South Korea at the Panmunjom in the Demilitarized Zone in Paju, South Korea, Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2018. Senior officials from the rival Koreas said Tuesday they would try to achieve a breakthrough in their long-strained ties as they sat for rare talks at the border to discuss how to cooperate in next month’s Winter Olympics in the South and other issues. (Korea Pool via AP)
Head of North Korean delegation Ri Son Gwon speaks to South Korean Unification Cho Myoung-gyon, right, during their meeting at the Panmunjom in the Demilitarized Zone in Paju, South Korea, Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2018. Senior officials from the rival Koreas said Tuesday they would try to achieve a breakthrough in their long-strained ties as they sat for rare talks at the border to discuss how to cooperate in next month’s Winter Olympics in the South and other issues. (Korea Pool via AP)
A North Korean army soldier, right, watches the South side at the Panmunjom in the Demilitarized Zone in Paju, South Korea, Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2018. Senior officials from the rival Koreas said Tuesday they would try to achieve a breakthrough in their long-strained ties as they sat for rare talks at the border to discuss how to cooperate in next month’s Winter Olympics in the South and other issues. (Korea Pool via AP)
South Korean Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon, third from right, and head of North Korean delegation Ri Son Gwon, third from left, with their delegation meet at the Panmunjom in the Demilitarized Zone in Paju, South Korea, Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2018. Senior officials from the rival Koreas said Tuesday they would try to achieve a breakthrough in their long-strained ties as they sat for rare talks at the border to discuss how to cooperate in next month’s Winter Olympics in the South and other issues. (Korea Pool via AP)
South Korean Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon, left, shakes hands with the head of North Korean delegation Ri Son Gwon before their meeting at the Panmunjom in the Demilitarized Zone in Paju, South Korea, Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2018. South Korean media said North and South Korea have begun talks at their border about how to cooperate in next month’s Winter Olympics and how to improve their long-strained ties. (Korea Pool/Yonhap via AP)
South Korean Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon, right, shakes hands with the head of North Korean delegation Ri Son Gwon before their meeting at the Panmunjom in the Demilitarized Zone in Paju, South Korea, Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2018. South Korean media said North and South Korea have begun talks at their border about how to cooperate in next month’s Winter Olympics and how to improve their long-strained ties. (Korea Pool/Yonhap via AP)
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