Seoul phones North Korea to arrange dialogue

By Jennie Oh  |  Jan. 2, 2018 at 7:06 AM
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SEOUL, South Korea, Jan. 2 (UPI) -- South Korea has proposed holding high-level dialogue with the North at the truce village of Panmunjom next Tuesday, Dong-A Ilbo reported.

South Korea's Unification Minister Cho Myoung Gyon said Tuesday that Seoul has called for a meeting with Pyongyang a month ahead of the PyeongChang Winter Olympics Games in hope that the two Koreas can discuss the North's participation.

This comes after the North's leader Kim Jong Un said, in his New Year's speech he is willing to send North Korean athletes to the Games and hold immediate talks with Seoul on the matter.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in welcomed the suggestion on Tuesday morning, ordering government ministries to prepare follow-up measures.

Seoul has, on various occasions, encouraged the North's participation in the Winter Olympics to defuse geopolitical tensions and improve ties between the two Koreas.

The Unification Ministry reached out to the North on Tuesday using the inter-Korean hotline in Panmunjom for the first time since February 2016, when Seoul closed the communication channel along with the Kaesong Industrial Complex.

The North did not respond to the calls but the unification minister said he hopes Pyongyang will "show a positive response" to using the hotline to fine-tune details for high-level dialogue.

If the discussion takes place, it would mark the first inter-Korean meeting of high-level officials since December 2015.

The unification minister said initial talks are likely to focus on arrangements for the Olympics, but other areas of mutual interest could also be discussed, Yonhap reported.

If the topic of denuclearization comes up, Seoul will "make efforts to deliver points that need to be conveyed," he said.

Regarding speculation that the North may demand a halt of joint military drills between Seoul and Washington or the rotational deployment of U.S. strategic assets to South Korea, Cho said Seoul will "discuss the matter if possible."

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