A day after the Wall Street Journal reported that the US officials are debating whether it’d be possible to mount a limited military strike against the North without provoking a nuclear response (maybe but who’d want to risk finding out?), the North said on Tuesday that, following a session of talks with its South Korean neighbors, the isolated country would be sending a delegation of athletes, dignitaries and journalists to the Winter Games in Pyeongchang next month.
While the US has yet to issue a response, such a move will probably infuriate South Korea’s American allies. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un have been engaged in an escalating war of words since the former took office a year ago.
According to Reuters, South Korea had unilaterally banned several North Korean officials from entering the country in response to Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile tests, Seoul said if it needs to take “prior steps” to help the North Koreans visit for the Olympics, it would consider it, together with the United Nations Security Council and other relevant countries, foreign ministry spokesman Roh Kyu-deok said during a press briefing.
The agreement comes after North Korea and South Korea last week agreed to reopen a cross-border hotline that had been shuttered for two years.
As the Guardian pointed out, the agreement represents a cautious diplomatic breakthrough after months of rising tensions over Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program.
The five-member North Korean delegation traveled to the border in a motorcade and then walked across the military demarcation line into the southern side of the truce village of Panmunjom at around 9.30 am local time, the Guardian reported. The village straddles the demilitarized zone (DMZ), the heavily armed border that has separated the two Koreas for more than six decades.
As the two sides sat down for their first face-to-face talks since December 2015, North Korean media pushed back against Trump’s claim that his tough stance on North Korea had forced it to the negotiating table. The Rodong Sinmun, the newspaper of the ruling Workers’ party, said Trump’s claim that sanctions and pressure on the regime had brought him “diplomatic success” during his first year in the White House was “ridiculous sophism”.
After a day of meetings, South Korean news agency Yonhap reported that the two delegations said in a joint statement that they would also engage in military talks, as well as talks pertaining to a whole host of inter-Korean issues. Meanwhile, they also agreed to "resolve problems" through dialogue and negotiation.
Discussions have focused on North Korean participation in the Pyeongchang Winter Games, but are also thought to have included other inter-Korean issues such as the resumption of reunions between family members who were separated at the end of the 1950-53 Korean war. South Korea has suggested holding reunions during the Lunar New Year holidays next month.
At Tuesday’s talks, the first since December 2015, Seoul also proposed inter-Korean military discussions to reduce tension on the peninsula and a reunion of family members in time for February’s Lunar New Year holiday, South Korea’s vice unification minister Chun Hae-sung said quoted by Reuters.
In the past, the Olympics have provided rare moments of unity for the two Koreas. They previously made joint entrances to Olympics opening and closing ceremonies in Sydney in 2000, Athens in 2004 and at the 2006 Winter Games in Turin.