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Seoul says both Koreas have agreed to hold talks on Tuesday

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Seoul says both Koreas have agreed to hold talks on Tuesday

The Associated Press
A visitor takes picture in front of ribbons wishing for the reunification of the two Koreas on the wire fence at the Imjingak Pavilion near the border village of Panmunjom, in Paju, South Korea, Thursday, Jan 4, 2018. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un reopened a key cross-border communication channel with South Korea for the first time in nearly two years Wednesday as the rivals explored the possibility of sitting down and talking after months of acrimony and fears of war. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)

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The rival Koreas agreed Friday to revive their first formal dialogue in more than two years next week to find ways to cooperate on the upcoming Winter Olympics in the South, a sign of easing animosities that followed a period of rising nuclear tension that saw fears of war on the Korean Peninsula.

The announcement by Seoul's Unification Ministry came hours after the United States said it has agreed to delay annual joint military exercises with South Korea until after the Winter Olympics. The exercises have been a major source of tension because North Korea considers them an invasion rehearsal, although South Korea and the United States have repeatedly said the drills are defensive in nature.

On Friday morning, North Korea sent a message saying it would accept South Korea's offer to meet at the border village of Panmunjom next Tuesday to discuss Olympic cooperation and how to improve overall ties, according to South Korea's Unification Ministry.

Spokesman Baik Tae-hyun said he expects the two Koreas to exchange messages to determine who would head each other's delegations and other issues.

Any dialogue between the Koreas is considered a positive step toward easing confrontations. But critics say the North's abrupt push for improving ties may be a tactic to divide Seoul and Washington and weaken international pressure and sanctions on Pyongyang.

Despite his recent outreach to the South, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said in his New Year's Day address that he has a "nuclear button" on his desk to fire atomic weapons at the United States. President Donald Trump quickly responded that he had a nuclear button of his own.

Past breakthroughs to ease Korean tensions have often ended with renewed animosities. It's likely the North will agree to send a delegation to the Winter Olympics and refrain from provocations during the Games. But tensions could return afterward because the North has no intentions of abandoning its weapons programs and the U.S. will not ease its pressure on the country, analysts say.

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