Kim Jong Un says he’s ‘open to dialogue’ with South Korea so North Korea can compete in the Olympics — and Seoul wants to talk

Kim Jong Un says he’s ‘open to dialogue’ with South Korea so North Korea can compete in the Olympics — and Seoul wants to talk


Kim Jong Un
North
Korean leader Kim Jong Un makes a speech at 5th Conference of
Cell Chairpersons of the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) on
December 23 in this photo released by North Korea’s Korean
Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang December 24,
2017.

KCNA/via
REUTERS


  • North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said he was open to
    negotiations with South Korea.
  • South Korea offered talks on Tuesday amid a standoff
    over its weapons programs.
  • The offer for high-level talks next Tuesday had been
    discussed with the US.

SEOUL (Reuters) – South Korea on Tuesday offered talks with North
Korea amid a standoff over its weapons programs, a day after
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said he was open to negotiations
but that his country would push ahead with “mass producing”
nuclear warheads.

The offer for high-level talks next Tuesday had been discussed
with the United States, the South’s unification minister said,
while a decision on whether to push back a massive joint military
drill between South Korea and the United States until after the
Winter Olympics was pending.

Tension has been rising over North Korea’s nuclear and missile
programs, which it pursues in defiance of years of U.N. Security
Council resolutions, with bellicose rhetoric coming from both
Pyongyang and the White House. The North sees the regular war
drills between the South and the United States as preparations
for war.

“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,” Unification
Minister Cho Myong-gyon told reporters.

“I repeat, the government is open to talking with North Korea,
regardless of time, location and form.”

Cho said he expects the dialogue at the border village of
Panmunjom, if it happens, to be focused on North Korea’s
participation at the Olympics in February, but other issues would
likely arise, including the decentralization of North Korea.

Should the talks be held on Jan. 9, it would be the first such
dialogue since a vice-ministerial meeting in December 2015.

The offer landed after a New Year’s Day speech by Kim who said he
was “open to dialogue” with Seoul, and for North Korean athletes
to possibly take part in the Winter Games, but he persistently
declared North Korea a nuclear power.

After welcoming Kim’s address, South Korean President Moon Jae-in
had asked his government earlier in the day to move as quickly as
possible to bring North Korea to the Olympics.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said the recent
positive comments from both sides about improving relations, and
Kim’s remarks about participating in the upcoming Olympics, were
a “good thing”.

“China welcomes and supports North Korea and South Korea taking
earnest efforts to treat this as an opportunity to improve mutual
relations, promote the alleviation of the situation on the Korean
peninsula and realize denuclearization on the peninsula.”


Trump South Korea Moon
U.S.
President Donald Trump and South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in
shake hands during a meeting at South Korea’s presidential Blue
House in Seoul, South Korea, November 7, 2017.

REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

“Deep breath” needed

Chun Yung-woo, a former South Korean national security adviser,
said Seoul should have taken more time before reacting to Kim’s
comments.

“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,” he said.

“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.”

Choi Moon-soon, governor of Gangwon Province where the Olympics
are to be held next month, has proposed South Korea send cruise
ships to bring North Korean athletes and officials to
Pyeongchang, according to South Korean media.

Choi met North Korean sports official Mun Woong in China on Dec.
18 on the sidelines of a international youth football tournament
where North and South Korea soccer teams competed, the Dong-A
Ilbo newspaper reported.

The governor did not immediately respond to a request by Reuters
for comment.

This week’s exchanges follow a year dominated by fiery threats
form Kim and U.S. President Donald Trump who vowed to destroy
North Korea if threatened, even as U.S. diplomats pushed for a
diplomatic solution.

North Korea, which regularly threatens to destroy the United
States, South Korea and Japan, tested its most powerful
intercontinental ballistic missile in November, which it said was
capable of delivering a warhead to anywhere in the United States.

Kim said in a New Year’s Day speech on Monday he would consider
sending a delegation to the Olympics.

“North Korea’s participation in the Winter Games will be a good
opportunity to showcase the national pride and we wish the Games
will be a success. Officials from the two Koreas may urgently
meet to discuss the possibility,” Kim said.

North Korea would focus in 2018 on “mass-producing nuclear
warheads and ballistic missiles for operational deployment”.

“The whole territory of the U.S. is within the range of our
nuclear strike and a nuclear button is always on the desk of my
office and this is just a reality, not a threat,” he said, while
emphasizing that the weapons would only be used if North Korea
was threatened.

The U.S. State Department did not respond to a requests for
comment on Kim’s address, but analysts said it was an attempt to
weaken the U.S.-South Korean alliance.

The Commerce Ministry in China, North Korea’s lone major ally,
also said it will continue to fully implement U.N. sanctions on
North Korea.

Trump said on Twitter last week that China has been “caught”
allowing oil into North Korea and said such moves would prevent
“a friendly solution” to the crisis.

(Reporting by Christine Kim;
Additional reporting by Jane Chung and Hyonhee Shin in Seoul, and
Michael Martina in Beijing; Editing by Nick Macfie)

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