North, South Korea begin first official talks in two years

Delegations of five senior officials from each side met at the “peace house” on the South Korean side of the Panmunjom truce village as the two countries officially held talks for the first time in two years.

The agenda is mainly focused on how North Korean athletes can participate in next month’s Winter Olympic Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea, but is also expected to touch on inter-Korean relations.

Read more: 

– What to expect from North and South Korea meeting ahead of Winter Olympics

– North Korea ‘likely’ to take part in Winter Olympics in South Korea

“I think we should be engaged in these talks with an earnest, sincere manner to give a New Year’s first gift — precious results to the Korean nation,” said Ri Son Gwon, head of North Korea’s delegation.

North Korea's delegation, lead by Ri Son Gwon (middle), arrives in the South Korean side of Panmunjom (picture-alliance/AP Photo/Yonhap/Korea Pool)

North Korea’s delegation, lead by Ri Son Gwon (middle), arrives in the South Korean side of Panmunjom

Cho Myoung Gyon, South Korea’s unification minister, believed the Pyeongchang Olympics “will become a peace Olympics as most valuable guests from the North are going to join many others from around the world.”

Ri and Cho shook hands as they entered the peace house and again across the table where the talks took place.

Some South Korean officials hope that athletes from the North and South can march underneath the same flag at the opening ceremonies of the Winter Games, which would be the first time in more than a decade that the two Koreas united under one flag at a sporting event opening.

“The people have a strong desire to see the North and South move toward peace and reconciliation,” Cho said.

Trump: talks ‘a good thing’

Tuesday’s summit was arranged after North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong Un, recently pushed for improved relations with South Korea.

Tensions on the Korean peninsula have elevated as North Korea has pushed toward developing nuclear weapons in defiance of United Nations Security Council resolutions. Critics say the talks are an attempt for Kim to drive a wedge between South Korea and the United States.

However, US President Donald Trump, who has taken repeated jabs at Kim on his Twitter account, has called the talks “a good thing.” The US ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, later said the administration was not changing its conditions regarding talks with North Korea, saying Kim would first need to stop weapons testing for a “significant amount of time.”

dv/se (AFP, AP, Reuters)