South Korean officials on Tuesday proposed high-level talks with North Korea at the border after Kim Jong Un said he was “open to dialogue” in his New Year’s address.
South Korea offered to meet with North Korea twice last year for discussions on de-escalating rising military tensions and reuniting families torn apart by the war, but Pyongyang ignored both proposals, continuing to rapidly advance its ballistic missile and nuclear weapons programs.
The North, however, changed its position on talks Monday.
After announcing the completion of the state nuclear forces in his New Year’s address, Kim suddenly expressed a desire to improve relations between North and South Korea. Kim said the two sides should “urgently meet to discuss the possibility” of North Korean participation in the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea.
The South Korean government responded positively, immediately proposing the first bilateral meeting between North and South Korea in two years. The South intends to hold the meeting at Panmunjom, a village located along the heavily-fortified Korean demilitarized zone (DMZ), on Tuesday, January 9.
If the meeting occurs, it will likely focus on military tensions, as well as logistics for North Korean participation int the Winter Olympics scheduled to start in early February.
The South Korean Ministry of Unification attempted Tuesday to get in touch with North Korea via the hotline in the truce village, but it has not yet received a response. For well over a year, South Korean officials have called twice a day every day into North Korea, but no one picks up the phone.
If North Korea agrees to meet with the South, it will represent a major breakthrough for South Korean President Moon Jae-in, a liberal and a staunch advocate of dialogue as the most practical solution for a peaceful resolution. The last high-level talks between North and South Korea were in 2015 at the Kaesong joint industrial zone, but negotiations ended without any agreements or meaningful achievements.
While it is noteworthy that North Korea has offered to engage its southern neighbor in dialogue, it is equally important that the North has stated that it intends to continue to bolster its nuclear force in the year ahead. In his New Year’s address, Kim called for the mass production and rapid deployment of missiles and nuclear weapons.
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