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North and South Korea Agree to Border Talks Next Week

The Panmunjom talks will be the first high-level inter-Korean dialogue in more than two years, coming after months of warlike threats from both North Korea and the United States over the North’s nuclear weapons program.

“The agenda for the talks will be how to improve South-North relations, including matters concerning the Pyeongchang Olympics,” said Baik Tae-hyun, a spokesman of the Unification Ministry, a South Korean government agency handling relations with North Korea.

Details like who will lead each side’s delegation to the talks will be sorted out in the coming days in an exchange of documents through Panmunjom, Mr. Baik said.

Once the official dialogue begins, the two sides must sort out such details as the size of the North’s Olympic delegation, its travel route, lodging and other logistics.

South Korea hopes that the North Korean athletes will travel across the heavily armed land border for the political symbolism of such a gesture. It also hopes that the two Koreas can march together behind a single “unified Korea” flag during the opening ceremony of the Olympics.

A potentially tricky issue for the South is how to respond should the North suggest that its Olympic delegation be led by one of the senior officials blacklisted by Washington or the United Nations Security Council on suspicion of involvement in the North’s nuclear weapons programs or human rights abuses.

The South will make sure that no sanctions violations will occur during the Olympics, Mr. Baik said on Friday.

South Korea, which champions dialogue as the best solution to resolving the North Korean nuclear crisis, hopes that the Winter Olympics will provide a lull in the nuclear standoff.

On Thursday, Mr. Moon talked with President Trump by phone and asked him to make the Olympics a success by postponing joint military exercises until after the Games in February and the Paralympics in March. North Korea has always denounced such exercises as a rehearsal for an invasion of the North.

Mr. Trump agreed to Mr. Moon’s suggestion. He said his tough actions and warnings against North Korea in the past months helped force it to start dialogue with the South.

The quick series of interactions across the inter-Korean border have been spurred by the young North Korean leader’s initiative in reaching out as well as Mr. Moon’s eagerness for dialogue.

Up until Mr. Kim’s surprise overture, North Korea has routinely disparaged the South as an American puppet and warned that it could strike the United States and its allies with nuclear missiles. In his New Year’s speech, he said he now had a “nuclear button” to release intercontinental ballistic missiles at any target in the mainland United States. Mr. Trump responded in kind, boasting that his button was actually “much bigger.”

Some analysts say that after a busy year of nuclear and missile tests, Mr. Kim may be trying to draw South Korea and the United States into negotiations in hopes of easing the biting sanctions in return for de-escalation of the tensions.

But North Korea insists that it will never give up its nuclear weapons, while Washington and Seoul want it to dismantle its entire nuclear arsenal.

Source: NYT > World

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