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South Korea Offers Talks With Rival North Over Winter Olympics


FILE - The Pyeongchang Olympic Stadium is seen under construction in Pyeongchang, South Korea, Oct. 30, 2017.

South Korea offered Tuesday to hold high-level talks with bitter rival North Korea over the North's possible participation in the upcoming Winter Olympic Games hosted by South Korea.

Seoul's offer comes one day after North Korean leader Kim Jong Un used his annual New Year's Day address to call for direct talks with Seoul and to announce his willingness to send a negotiating team to South Korea before the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang next month.

U.S. President Donald Trump said on Twitter that Kim's willingness to negotiate with South Korea is a sign of desperation.

"Sanctions and 'other' pressures are beginning to have a big impact on North Korea. Soldiers are dangerously fleeing to South Korea. Rocket man now wants to talk to South Korea for first time. Perhaps that is good news, perhaps not - we will see!"

Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon said Tuesday Seoul wants to meet North Korean diplomats in exactly one week in the truce village of Panmunjom, located in the demilitarized zone that separates the North and South. The meeting would be the first high-level talks between Seoul and Pyongyang since December 2015.

South Koreans watch a TV news program showing North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's New Year's speech, at the Seoul Railway Station in Seoul, South Korea, Jan. 1, 2018.
South Koreans watch a TV news program showing North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's New Year's speech, at the Seoul Railway Station in Seoul, South Korea, Jan. 1, 2018.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in welcomed Kim's suggestion to hold talks late Monday, but said any improvements on inter-Korean relations must occur in tandem with Pyongyang's abandonment of its nuclear weapons program.

Grant Newsham, a senior research fellow at the Tokyo-based Japan Forum for Strategic Studies, tells VOA Seoul’s overture reflects sentiment among a segment of the populace who believe that "somehow reaching a deal" with autocratic North Korea is a real possibility.

"There's even a sense in this group, or community, that somehow it's the Americans' fault that the Koreas are divided," Newsham said. "It's not surprising they would jump at the bait that the North dangles."

Kim Jong Un also used his speech to warn the United States that North Korea's nuclear program is a reality, and a nuclear button is "always on the desk in my office."

Kim and Trump engaged in an escalating war of words last year amid Pyongyang's continued testing of its nuclear and ballistic missile programs, including a sixth nuclear test and a new intercontinental ballistic missile that could potentially reach the U.S. mainland.

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