North and South Korea re­open cau­tious di­a­logue

The Guardian Weekly - - International News - Justin McCurry Tokyo

North Korea will send ath­letes and cheer­lead­ers to next month’s Win­ter Olympics in South Korea, af­ter the two coun­tries held their first of­fi­cial talks for more than two years.

The North Korean party will also in­clude per­form­ing artists and jour­nal­ists, South Korea’s vice uni­fi­ca­tion min­is­ter, Chun Hae-sung, said af­ter the first ses­sion of talks ended on Tues­day. Chun added that South Korea had pro­posed that the two Koreas march to­gether dur­ing the open­ing and clos­ing cer­e­monies at the Pyeongchang Games, which open on 9 Fe­bru­ary. The two Koreas pre­vi­ously made joint en­trances to Olympics open­ing and clos­ing cer­e­monies in Syd­ney in 2000, Athens in 2004 and at the 2006 Win­ter Games in Turin.

The agree­ment rep­re­sents a cau­tious diplo­matic break­through af­ter months of ris­ing ten­sions over Py­ongyang’s nu­clear weapons pro­gramme.

The five-mem­ber North Korean del­e­ga­tion trav­elled to the bor­der in a mo­tor­cade and then walked across the mil­i­tary de­mar­ca­tion line into the south­ern side of the truce vil­lage of Pan­munjom on Tues­day morn­ing. The vil­lage strad­dles the de­mil­i­tarised zone that sep­a­rates the two Koreas.

As the two sides sat down for their first face-to-face talks since De­cem­ber 2015, North Korean me­dia hit back at Don­ald Trump’s claim that his stance against Py­ongyang had fa­cil­i­tated the Olympic ne­go­ti­a­tions. The Rodong Sin­mun, the news­pa­per of the rul­ing Work­ers’ party, said Trump’s claim was “ridicu­lous sophism”. Reuters re­ported that South Korean ne­go­tia­tors had also pro­posed mil­i­tary talks de­signed to ease ten­sions on the penin­sula.

Early dis­cus­sions fo­cused on North Korean par­tic­i­pa­tion in the Pyeongchang Win­ter Games, but were also thought to have in­cluded other in­ter-Korean is­sues such as the re­sump­tion of re­unions be­tween fam­ily mem­bers who were sep­a­rated at the end of the 1950-53 Korean war.

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