South Korean officials want to hold high-level talks with North Korean officials next week to discuss two issues—how to ease military tensions, and whether to allow North Korean athletes to participate in the upcoming Winter Olympics in PyeongChang.
“We hope the two sides sit down for frank talks,” South Korean Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon said in a news conference, according to the New York Times.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in supports the proposed talks and has said recently he hopes North Korean athletes will join the upcoming Winter Olympics.
North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un had ignored Moon’s overtures, but in his New Year’s speech, finally responded to them by expressing interest in having some athletes participate. He said he is “open to dialogue” with the South.
But while Kim expressed interest in sending athletes over to South Korea, he also repeated nuclear threats against the United States, leading some experts to posit that he wants to drive a wedge between the historic allies.
South Korean officials, though, are determined to move forward and want a meeting scheduled soon. The United States has been kept abreast of plans for a meeting.
“We look forward to candidly discussing interests from both sides face-to-face with North Korea along with the North’s participation in the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics,” minister Cho told reporters, reported Australia’s ABC.
Some experts warn the negotiations may fall into a trap by the North Korean dictator, though.
“I regret the Government had even lost the flexibility to spend one day or two taking a deep breath and meticulously analyzing Kim Jong-un’s ulterior motive before hastily issuing a welcoming statement,” Chun Yung-woo, a former South Korean national security adviser, told Reuters.
“The Government will have to strive more to come up with a countermeasure not to get caught in a trap set by Kim Jong Un.”
Another expert said this could be a pivotal moment in relations between the Koreas.
“Just the fact that they are meeting will be meaningful because it signals an attempt on both sides to improve relations,” said Koh Yu-Hwan, a political science professor at Dongguk University, to NDTV.
“What North Korea is trying to do is re-establish its relations (with Seoul) as a nuclear state. The South’s dilemma is whether we can accept that,” Koh added.
The proposed meeting place would be the so-called “truce village” of Panmunjom, according to the BBC. The village is set in the heavily guarded demilitarized zone at the border of the two countries.
The two sides last met in high-level talks in December 2015, but those talks ended without any agreement.
The Winter Olympics will start in February in PyeongChang. South Korea is also hosting the Paralympics in March.