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South Korean officials head to border for talks with North

  • South Korean Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon speaks to the media before leaving for the border village of Panmunjom to attend South and North Korea meeting, at the Office of the South Korea-North Korea Dialogue in Seoul, South Korea, Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2018. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon) Ahn Young-joon

  • South Korean Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon leaves for the border village of Panmunjom to attend South and North Korea meeting, at the Office of the South Korea-North Korea Dialogue in Seoul, South Korea, Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2018. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon) Ahn Young-joon

  • South Korean Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon, center, poses with other delegates before leaving for the border village of Panmunjom to attend South and North Korea meeting, at the Office of the South Korea-North Korea Dialogue in Seoul, South Korea, Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2018. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon) Ahn Young-joon

  • FILE - In this Jan. 1, 2018, file photo, South Koreans watch a TV news program showing North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's New Year's speech, at the Seoul Railway Station in Seoul, South Korea. On Jan. 1, 2018, Kim said in his New Year’s address that he is willing to send a delegation to the Pyeongchang Olympics. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man, File) Lee Jin-man

  • FILE - In this Sept. 20, 1986, file photo, an opening ceremony for the Asian Games is held at Olympic stadium in Seoul, South Korea. North Korea boycotted the games. (Yonhap via AP, File)

  • FILE - In this Sept. 19, 2014, file photo. athletes from North Korea march into the stadium during the opening ceremony for the 17th Asian Games in Incheon, South Korea. North Korea attended the Asian Games in Incheon, South Korea. At the close of the event, three top North Korean officials made a surprise visit and held the highest-level face-to-face talks with South Korea in five years. (AP Photo/Dita Alangkara, File) Dita Alangkara

  • FILE - In this June 23, 2017, file photo, North Korean taekwondo demonstration team members and other officials arrive at Gimpo International Airport in Seoul, South Korea. In June, 2017, the team visited South Korea for its first performance in the rival country in 10 years. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man, File) Lee Jin-man



Associated Press
Monday, January 08, 2018

SEOUL, South Korea — North and South Korea were set to hold rare talks at their tense border Tuesday to discuss how to cooperate in next month’s Winter Olympics in the South and improve their long-strained ties.

Senior South Korean officials left Seoul early in the morning for the meeting in the Demilitarized Zone that divides the two countries.

The rival Koreas’ first formal talks in about two years came about as North Korean leader Kim Jong Un makes an apparent push for improved ties with the South after a year of elevated tension over his country’s nuclear and missile tests. Critics of the meeting say Kim may be trying to divide Seoul and Washington in a bid to weaken international pressure and sanctions over the tests.

In his New Year’s Day address, Kim said there is an urgent need to improve inter-Korean ties and that he is willing to send a delegation to the Feb. 9-25 Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea. He urged Seoul to halt its annual military drills with Washington, which he called a rehearsal for an invasion, and said he has a “nuclear button” to launch missiles at anywhere in the United States.

Moon, a liberal who favors dialogue as a way to defuse the North Korean nuclear standoff, welcomed Kim’s outreach and proposed Tuesday’s talks at the border village of Panmunjom. Kim quickly accepted Moon’s offer.

“We will make our best efforts to make the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics and Paralympics become a peaceful festival, and that (the talks) become a good first step,” South Korean Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon told reporters before departing. “We will also calmly participate in the talks without rushing, in accordance with expectations of our people.”

The International Olympic Committee said Monday it has “kept the door open” for North Korea to take part in the Games. IOC spokesman Mark Adams said the registration deadline has been extended and that the Switzerland-based committee supports North Korean athletes in the qualification process, while respecting U.N. sanctions against North Korea.

South Korean officials said they would focus first on Olympic cooperation before dealing with tougher political and military issues. Moon’s government wants North Korea to take part in the Games as a way to improve relations.

U.S. President Donald Trump said Saturday he hopes some progress results from Tuesday’s talks. But Trump’s U.N. ambassador, Nikki Haley, said Sunday the U.S. administration is not changing its conditions for talks with North Korea, saying Kim would first need to stop weapons testing for a “significant amount of time.”

The Trump administration agreed last week to delay upcoming springtime military drills with South Korea until after the Games. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis insisted the delay was a practical necessity to accommodate the Olympics, not a political gesture.

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