20.01.2018
Koreas' Talks to Cover Olympics Only

Koreas' Talks to Cover Olympics Only

North Korea has accepted South Korea's offer of high-level talks on Jan. 9 at the truce village of Panmunjom in the demilitarized zone dividing the two Koreas, but only the Olympic Games will be discussed.

According to South Korea's Unification Ministry, North Korea on Friday morning sent a message saying it would accept Seoul's offer to meet at the border village to discuss Olympic cooperation and how to improve overall ties.

Ministry spokesman Baik Tae-hyun said it was expected the two Koreas would use a recently restored cross-border communication channel to determine who will head their respective delegations next week.

Any dialogue between North and South is seen as a positive step in improving relations on the Korean Peninsula, which would contribute to the overall stability in the region.

A worker is seen at the Olympic Stadium, venue for the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympic Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea, Dec. 12, 2017.
A worker is seen at the Olympic Stadium, venue for the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympic Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea, Dec. 12, 2017.

U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis spoke over the phone with his counterpart in Seoul on Friday, who said the upcoming talks between the North and South would be about the Olympics only, adding that the sporting event was historically kept separate from politics.

Mattis said the failure to discuss security in the upcoming Korea talks was not a missed opportunity, but rather an initial willingness on the part of DPRK to open up a dialogue.

It would be [a missed opportunity] if the other nations that are involved were in the room, but in fact, they're not, he said.

Katina Adams, the State Department's Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs spokeswoman, told VOA on Friday, We are in close contact with the Republic of Korea about our unified response to North Korea. As President Moon [Jae-in] stated, 'The improvement of relations between North and South Korea cannot advance separately from resolving North Korea's nuclear program.'

A South Korean government official checks the direct communications hotline to talk with the North Korean side at the border village of Panmunjom, Jan. 3, 2018.
A South Korean government official checks the direct communications hotline to talk with the North Korean side at the border village of Panmunjom, Jan. 3, 2018.

North Korea expert Yang Mu-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul, said Friday that the return to formal dialogue between the communist North and the democratic South could have ramifications for denuclearization and regional peace.

For the South, denuclearization is important, and for the North, negotiation with the U.S. is important, Yang said. Thus, with the success of the Pyeongchang Olympics as a turning point, North and South will restore relations, and the South will persuade both Pyongyang and Washington to encourage North-U.S. dialogue. Furthermore, there is a possibility that this will lead to a positive direction toward denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula and establishing peace through four-party talks and six-party talks in the future.

FILE - A U.S. Navy F/A-18 Super Hornet fighter approaches the deck of the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson during the annual joint military exercise between South Korea and the United States, March 14, 2017.
FILE - A U.S. Navy F/A-18 Super Hornet fighter approaches the deck of the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson during the annual joint military exercise between South Korea and the United States, March 14, 2017.

The North's announcement Friday came shortly after the United States and South Korea decided to delay joint military exercises until after the Pyeongchang Olympics next month.

South Korea's Blue House, or the executive office, said Thursday that the decision came during a phone call between U.S. President Donald Trump and Moon.

A White House statement said both leaders agreed to deconflict the Olympics and our military exercises so that [the] United States and Republic of Korea forces can focus on ensuring the security of the Games.

Mattis downplayed the delay to reporters Thursday, calling it a practical matter. He said the exercises would resume after the March 9-18 Paralympic Games, which will also be played in Pyeongchang.

The annual joint military exercises, known as Foal Eagle, are usually held between February and April and are one of the world's largest such drills. The exercises combine ground, air, naval and special operations to increase readiness to defend South Korea and the region. North Korea routinely objects to the exercises.

During Thursday's phone call, the White House said Trump and Moon agreed to continue the campaign of maximum pressure against North Korea and to not repeat mistakes of the past.

Earlier, Trump tweeted that his firm and strong leadership was the impetus for a scheduled resumption of talks between North and South Korea.

Nike Ching at the State Department contributed to this report.