North and South Korea met for high-level talks at the border Tuesday, a major diplomatic breakthrough.
The two sides met at the Peace House in Panmunjom, the truce village on the tense Korean border where the 1953 armistice agreement that ended the Korean War was signed, and discussed North Korean participation in the Winter Olympics, as well as options for improving bilateral relations.
North and South Korea are finally talking again
North Korea severed all connections to its southern neighbor after Seoul shut down the jointly-run Kaesong Industrial Complex in response to North Korea’s fourth nuclear test two years ago.
All South Korean attempts to re-establish contact had failed repeatedly until North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un announced in his speech on New Year’s day that North Korea is “open to dialogue” with South Korea.
Two days later, Kim ordered the re-opening of a dormant hotline between the two Koreas, and the two sides made contact by phone for the first time in two years. North and South Korean officials then met face-to-face for high-level talks the following Tuesday.
The opportunity for dialogue is perceived by the South Korean government as a chance for the peaceful resolution of disputes negatively impacting bilateral relations.
Tuesday’s talks lasted a total of 11 hours.
North Korea is heading to the Winter Olympics
Kim first expressed an interest in seeing his country participate in the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea in the young despot’s New Year’s address last Monday.
In a joint statement issued after Tuesday’s talks, the North pledged to send a delegation of athletes, spectators, cheerleaders, cultural performers, and government officials to participate in the Winter Olympics.
The South is reportedly considering lifting certain sanctions on the North to allow North Korean officials to visit the South for the Games. The South has also proposed having the North Korean and South Korean teams march in together.
Hotline for military talks to be re-opened
South Korea proposed restarting talks on military issues and even brought up North Korea’s illicit nuclear program, reportedly calling for a denuclearized Korean Peninsula.
North Korea criticized the South for attempting to address the nuclear issue but announced that a disconnected military hotline has been re-opened. The line will be fully operational Wednesday.
In the past, this hotline was used to coordinate border movements around the Kaesong Industrial Complex, so observers speculate that it may be used to facilitate the arrival of North Korea’s Olympic delegation.
Furthermore, North and South Korea agreed to solve disputes through dialogue, with the South urging its northern neighbor to avoid hostile acts and the North expressing a need for a peaceful peninsula.
Reuniting families put on the table
The South Korean delegation reportedly proposed reuniting families separated by the Korean War for the Lunar New Year, which will fall during the Winter Olympics.
Thousands of Korean families have been separated for decades, and the South Korean government under the leadership of President Moon Jae-in has made this issue a priority. Moon called for talks on reuniting families last summer, but the North ignored his offer and continued testing ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons while issuing aggressive threats.
The joint statement in the wake of Tuesday’s talks made no mention of reunions for families.
The last reunions were over two years ago.
North Korea reveals the speed at which it can change course
Also of note is how quickly North Korea went from hostility and frequent provocations to dialogue and diplomacy on the border. In a little over a week, North and South Korea re-opened two separate hotlines and met in person after years characterized by marked increases in tensions. The recent changes highlight the speed at which North Korea could reverse course.
“There would be no theoretical problem for the North Korean government to pivot radically from talks with South Korea to shutting them down,” Dr. Nicholas Eberstadt, an Asian security affairs expert at the American Enterprise Institute, told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “The thing we should always recognize is that this entire diplomatic process is entirely run by North Korea. The North Korean regime calls the shots.”
“North Korea is entirely in the driver’s seat in the crisis it has caused,” he further remarked.
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