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South Korea Calls for Talks with North Korea on Winter Olympics

02 January, 2018

South Korea has offered to hold high-level talks with North Korea over the North possibly taking part in the Winter Olympic Games next month.

Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon said Tuesday that South Korean officials want to meet North Korean diplomats in one week. He said the two sides could meet at Panmunjom, a village in the demilitarized zone separating the Koreas.

The meeting would be the first high-level talks between the sides since December 2015.

FILE PHOTO: North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un speaks during a New Year's Day speech in this photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang on January 1, 2018.
FILE PHOTO: North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un speaks during a New Year's Day speech in this photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang on January 1, 2018.

The South Korean offer came one day after North Korea leader Kim Jong Un gave his New Year's Day message. In it, Kim announced that he is considering sending a team to take part at the winter games, in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

Late Monday, South Korean President Moon Jae-in welcomed the North Korean offer. However, he added that any improvements in relations between North and South Korea could take place only with the North ending its nuclear weapons program.

Grant Newsham is a researcher at the Japan Forum for Strategic Studies in Tokyo. He told VOA that the Moon administration considers restarting talks a possibility. He said the effort represents the desire by some South Koreans to "somehow reach a deal" with North Korea.

Newsham expressed concerns, however, that South Koreans blame the United States for the situation on the Korean Peninsula. He said, there is a belief "that somehow it's the Americans' fault that the Koreas are divided." He added that conflict on the Korean Peninsula would not serve any group involved.

China's government is an ally of North Korea. It said it supported talks between the two sides. A foreign ministry spokesman said it was a good development that could ease tensions and support the removal of nuclear weapons from the Korean Peninsula.

In his speech, Kim Jong Un warned the United States that North Korea's nuclear program is a reality. He said that he has the ability to use nuclear weapons if attacked.

U.S. President Donald Trump commented on the situation on the social media network Twitter. He said strong restrictions on North Korea and other forms of pressure are working.

Of the offer of talks, Trump said, "Perhaps that is good news, perhaps not – we will see!"

I'm Mario Ritter.

Richard Green reported this story for VOA News. Mario Ritter adapted his report for VOA Learning English. The story also includes material from VOA's Victor Beattie and the Reuters news agency. George Grow was the editor.

We want to hear from you. Write to us in the Comments section, and visit 51VOA.COM.


Words in This Story

demilitarized zone – n. an area where soldiers and weapons are banned

faultn. responsibility for a bad situation or mistake