North and South Korea agree to hold military talks after first summit in two years

Dialogue raises prospect of resuming temporary reunifications of families separated after the end of the Korean war in 1953

Harry Cockburn
Tuesday 09 January 2018 13:19
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North Korea and South Korea open line of communication

North and South Korea have agreed to hold military talks, a joint statement said, after the two countries engaged in formal dialogue on Tuesday for the first time in more than two years.

North Korea has also announced it will send a high-ranking delegation along with athletes, journalists and a cheering squad to the Winter Olympics in South Korea next month.

But despite the diplomatic advance, the head of North Korea’s delegation in the talks on Tuesday warned the South over the mention of denuclearisation during discussions, the South Korean government said in a statement.

The two countries will reopen a military communications hotline that has remained unused since February 2016, with contact resuming on Wednesday.

The South also called for talks between the two countries’ Red Cross organisations to run parallel to the military discussions which are designed to reduce the potential for conflict between the nations.

The talks at the border came as North Korean leader Kim Jong-un pushes for improved relations with the South after more than a year of strained relations over Pyongyang’s increasing frequency of nuclear missile tests.

But the North agreed to the meeting after Seoul and Washington announced they would put planned military exercises on hold until after the Winter Paralympics end on 18 March.

The North has regularly cited the joint manoeuvers as a barrier to improving relations with the South, saying the war games are preparations for an invasion.

South Korea also suggested resuming temporary reunions of families separated by the 1950-53 war which divided Korea.

US President Donald Trump credited himself with bringing about the talks between the two countries, tweeting last week. He wrote on Twitter: “With all of the failed ‘experts’ weighing in, 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. Fools, but talks are a good thing!”

North Korean state-controlled newspaper The Rodong Sinmun, said Mr Trump’s claim that sanctions and pressure on Pyongyang had brought about the dialogue between North and South Korea was “ridiculous sophism”, the Guardian reports.

Critics believe Mr Kim may be taking advantage of an opportunity to weaken the relationship between Seoul and Washington in a bid to reduce pressure and sanctions on the North.

But China and Russia have welcomed the talks. The Kremlin described the breakthrough as “exactly the kind of dialogue that we said was necessary”, while China’s foreign ministry said it was “pleased to see this high level talk between the two sides”.

The meeting has also raised the possibility of the two countries conducting a joint march for the opening and closing ceremonies of the Winter Olympics in the South Korean county of Pyeongchang, 110 miles southeast of Seoul.

The two nations have previously made joint appearances at Olympic Games in Sydney in 2000, Athens in 2004 and the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin.

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