South Korea proposes high-level talks with North on Olympics


South Korea proposes high-level talks with North on Olympics

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption There are only two North Korean athletes who qualify for this year's Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang

South Korea has offered high level talks with North Korea on 9 January to discuss its possible participation in the 2018 Winter Olympic Games.

It comes after the North's leader Kim Jong-un said he was considering sending a team to Pyeongchang in South Korea for the Games in February.

He said the two sides should "urgently meet to discuss the possibility".

South Korea's president said earlier he saw the offer as a chance to improve the highly tense relationship.

South Korean Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon proposed on Tuesday that representatives could meet at Panmunjom, the so-called "truce village".

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Media captionTensions are high between the two warring countries

The village, in the heavily guarded demilitarised zone (DMZ) at the border, is where the Koreas have historically held talks.

"We hope that the South and North can sit face to face and discuss the participation of the North Korean delegation at the Pyeongchang Games as well as other issues of mutual interest for the improvement of inter-Korean ties," said Mr Cho.

It is not yet known who will be attending the proposed talks on the 9 January, and North Korea has yet to respond.

The last high-level talks took place in December 2015 in the Kaesong joint industrial zone.

They ended without any agreement and the meeting's agenda was not made public.

North Korea has in the past two years quickly advanced its nuclear and convention weapons programme, despite increasing international sanctions.

Melting a frozen relationship

At a cabinet meeting on Tuesday, President Moon Jae-in said he welcomed Kim Jong-un's comments.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Kim Jong-un's New Year speech took an unexpectedly conciliatory tone with South Korea

Mr Moon said he had himself already suggested the Olympic Games could be a "groundbreaking chance" to move towards peace.

He said the relevant ministries should "swiftly come up with follow-up measures to quickly restore South-North Korean dialogue" and ensure a delegation from the North could attend the Games.

But he said co-operation with the South's international allies on halting North Korea's controversial nuclear and ballistic weapon development would continue.

In his speech on Monday, the North Korean leader repeated his threats against the US. He said the entire country was within range of North Korean weapons and the nuclear button was "always on my table".

However, he offered a potential olive branch to South Korea, saying the frozen relationship "should melt".

"The year 2018 is a significant year for both the North and the South, with the North marking the 70th anniversary of its birth and the South hosting the Winter Olympics.

"We should melt the frozen North-South relations, thus adorning this meaningful year as a year to be specially recorded in the history of the nation," he said.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption North Korean figure skaters could yet be competing in Pyeongchang

'New Year's gift'

The president of the Pyeongchang Games' organising committee, Lee Hee-beom, earlier told South Korea's news agency Yonhap he was delighted to hear of the North's potential participation.

"It's like a New Year's gift," he said.

North Korea's KCNA state media said on Tuesday that the country was "filled with firm determination to achieve fresh victory" in the Games.

The only two North Korean athletes who qualified for the Games are figure skaters Ryom Tae-Ok and Kim Ju-Sik.

Although the North has missed the official deadline to confirm their participation, the skaters could still compete with an invitation by the International Olympic Committee.

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