South Korea on Tuesday proposed high-level talks with North Korea next week over its participation in the PyeongChang Winter Olympics, in response to leader Kim Jong-un's reconciliatory New Year message.
Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon proposed that the two Koreas meet next Tuesday at the truce village of Panmunjom in the heavily fortified demilitarized zone.
"We hope that South and North Korea will sit down to discuss the North's participation in the games and ways to improve inter-Korean ties in a frank manner," Cho said at a press conference.
"The government has a willingness to have dialogue with the North regardless of timing, place and format," the minister said.
|This photo, taken on Jan. 2, 2017, shows Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon proposing high-level talks with North Korea next week. (Yonhap)|
In a New Year's speech on Monday, Kim said that Pyongyang is open to dialogue with Seoul, expressing its willingness to take part in the Winter Games to be held in South Korea on Feb. 9-25.
Kim's surprise offer came as the South is pinning hopes on the North's participation in the games because it believes that the move could help ease tensions on the Korean Peninsula.
South Korea's presidential office welcomed Kim's olive branch and instructed the relevant ministries to swiftly draw up measures to realize the North's participation.
If held, it would mark the first high-level inter-Korean talks since December 2015.
The minister said that the upcoming talks would focus on the Olympic participation, but Seoul hopes that they could pave the way for the resumption of inter-Korean talks and the improvement of long-stalled ties.
In July, the South proposed to hold military talks on easing border tensions and dialogue for holding reunions of families separated by the 1950-53 Korean War. But the North snubbed such proposals.
"We think that the suspended inter-Korean communication channels should be immediately restored. We propose that the two Koreas discuss details of talks including agenda items and the composition of delegations through the channel at the truce village," Cho said. "We look forward to the North's positive response to this."
Key communication channels between the two Koreas are not operating as the North cut off them in February 2016 in protest against Seoul's shutdown of an inter-Korean industrial complex.
Liberal President Moon Jae-in hopes to seek engagement with North Korea, but Seoul is currently focusing on pressure and sanctions on the wayward regime due to the North's defiant pursuit of nuclear and missile programs.
The U.S. is staging the campaign of "maximum pressure and sanctions" on the North, stressing the need for Pyongyang's denuclearization.
Moon earlier proposed that Seoul and Washington postpone their joint military drills that could coincide with the PyeongChang Olympics or the following Paralympics. The North has long denounced them as a war rehearsal.
Experts said that Kim apparently indicated that the suspension of the military exercises and the halt to Washington's regular deployment of strategic assets to the Korean Peninsula as conditions for talks.
"The militaries of the allies will make a decision on the matter after taking into account various factors," Cho said, without elaborating. (Yonhap)
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