North and South Korea begin high-level talks on Olympic Games

Posted on January 9, 2018 15:19:12 Filed in Sport

Image copyright Getty Images. The meeting will take place at the Peace House, which sits in the border village of Panmunjom

North and South Korea have begun high-level talks, the first between the countries in two years.

The meeting started at 10:00 local time (01:00 GMT) at the Peace House in the truce village of Panmunjom.

The talks will focus on North Korea's possible participation in the 2018 Winter Olympic Games, taking place in South Korea in February.

South Korea also said it would raise ways to improve inter-Korean relations.

Relations between the Koreas deteriorated after Seoul suspended a joint economic project at the Kaesong Industrial complex in North Korea following a rocket launch and nuclear test by the North.

The incident led to North Korea breaking off communications with Seoul, including cutting off telephone contact. The last high-level talks between the two countries were in December 2015.

Tensions have risen in the years since as the North continues to rapidly advance its banned weapons programme.

'They will go well'

Both sides are sending five-member delegations to the talks, who spoke to media ahead of the session.

"Today we'll engage in talks to discuss North Korea's participation in the Winter Olympics, as well as the improvement of inter-Korean relations," said Seoul's Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon who is leading the delegation.

The North's delegation is led by Ri Son-gwon, the chairman of North Korea's state agency in charge of affairs with the South and veteran negotiator.

Mr Ri told reporters: "Today, North and South Korea will engage in talks in a serious and sincere stance."

"They will go well," he said.

Image copyright Reuters. South Korea's delegation drives into Panmunjom

North Korean leader leadership expert Michael Madden told the BBC that we were seeing the "baby steps of incremental rapprochement".

"Both Koreas are proceeding cautiously, but what they would like to see happen is [the meeting] becoming a springboard for further contacts and interactions," North Korean leadership expert Michael Madden told the BBC.

The delegates are meeting in Panmunjom village that lies in the heavily guarded demilitarised zone (DMZ) and is where the two sides have historically held talks.

What is the significance of Panmunjom?

After the Korean war ended in a truce in 1953, Panmunjom was designated as the one place where officials from both sides could meet.

The "truce village" is divided into two parts by a military demarcation line: one side belonging to the North, the other to the South.

In the middle of the village sit the UN Command buildings, crossing the middle of the line.

Last year, a North Korean defector made a dash through the DMZ, managing to cross over to the South Korean side of Panmunjom.

'Groundbreaking chance'

Last week South Korea offered high-level talks with the North, after North Korean leader Kim Jong-un said he was considering sending a team to the Olympics in Pyeongchang

The move led to North Korea restoring a telephone hotline to South Korea, enabling the first contact about holding talks. Pyongyang later accepted the South's offer of talks.

South Korea's President Moon Jae-in said he saw the Winter Olympic Games as a "groundbreaking chance" to improve relations between the Koreas.

US President Donald Trump called the talks a "big start", adding that it would be a "great thing for all of humanity" if they resulted in a positive outcome.


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