Wednesday 23 January 2019

North Korea agrees to first peace talks for two years

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Photo: Reuters
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Photo: Reuters

Christine Kim

North Korea agreed yesterday to hold official talks with the South next week, the first in more than two years, hours after the United States and South Korea delayed a military exercise amid a standoff over the North's nuclear and missile programmes.

South Korea said the North had sent its consent for the talks to be held on Tuesday.

The last time the two Koreas engaged in official talks was in December 2015.

The meeting will take place at the border truce village of Panmunjom, where officials from both sides are expected to discuss the Winter Olympics, to be held in the South next month, and other inter-Korean relations, South Korean unification ministry spokesman Baik Tae-hyun told reporters.

North Korea asked for further negotiations about the meeting to be carried out via documented exchanges, Mr Baik said.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un opened the way for talks with South Korea in a New Year's Day speech in which he called for reduced tensions and flagged the North's possible participation in the Winter Olympics.

But Mr Kim remained steadfast on the issue of nuclear weapons.

He said that the North would mass produce nuclear missiles for operational deployment, and again warned that he would launch a nuclear strike if his country was threatened.

US President Donald Trump and his South Korean counterpart Moon Jae-in announced on Thursday that annual large-scale military drills would now take place after the Olympics.

The North sees these drills as preparations for invasion and just cause for its weapons programmes that it conducts in defiance of UN Security Council resolutions.

South Korea and the United States are technically still at war with North Korea, after the 1950 to 1953 Korean conflict had ended with a truce, not a peace treaty.

Mr Trump had earlier called the proposed inter-Korean talks a "good thing" and said that he would send a high-level delegation, including members of his family, to the Olympics, according to South Korea's presidential office.

In a tweet, Mr Trump, who hurled fresh insults at the North Korean leader this week, took credit for any dialogue that takes place.

"Does anybody really believe that talks and dialogue would be going on between North and South Korea right now if I wasn't firm, strong and willing to commit our total 'might' against the North?" Mr Trump tweeted.

North Korea regularly threatens to destroy the United States and its two key Asia allies, Japan and South Korea.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang welcomed North and South Korea "taking positive steps to improve ties".

Irish Independent

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