North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-Un said two things during his annual New Year address. First he warned he has a “nuclear button” on his table. Then he expressed an interest in dialogue.
On January 2, South Korea proposed high-level talks with Pyongyang on January 9, after the North’s leader Kim Jong-Un called for better relations. He also said his country might attend the Winter Olympics in the South.
South Korea’s unification minister Cho Myoung-Gyon told a press conference that Seoul was “reiterating our willingness to hold talks with the North at any time and place in any form”.
“The government proposes to hold high-level government talks with North Korea on January 9 at the Peace House in Panmunjom,” Cho said, referring to a truce village on the border between the two Koreas.
“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.”
As reported by the Agence France-Presse (AFP), the news comes after North Korea rattled the international community in recent months with multiple missile launches and its sixth and most powerful nuclear test – purportedly of a hydrogen bomb.
It has shrugged off a raft of new sanctions and heightened rhetoric from Washington as it drives forward with its weapons programme, which it says is for defence against US aggression.
But US President Donald Trump said on January 2 that sanctions and other pressure were beginning to have a “big impact” on the North, citing leader Kim Jong-Un’s offer of talks with the South.
“Perhaps that is good news, perhaps not – we will see!” he said on his Twitter account.
“Since we are compatriots of the same blood as south Koreans, it is natural for us to share their pleasure over the auspicious event and help them,” Kim said in his address.
According to AP, the main venues for the Games are just 80km from the heavily fortified border with North Korea and the build-up to the event has been overshadowed by the nuclear weapons standoff.
But Seoul and the Games’ organisers are keen for the North to take part, and analysts say its participation at Pyeongchang is likely given Kim’s remarks about sending a delegation there.