About the Authors
Dagyum Ji is a senior NK News correspondent based in Seoul. She previously worked for Reuters TV.
North and South Korea announced that they will conduct further talks on DPRK participation in the upcoming PyeongChang Olympics, as well as on military and diplomatic issues, in a joint statement released on Tuesday evening.
The announcement follows a day of intensive inter-Korean talks at the Peace Village in Panmunjom, the first of their kind since December 2015.
A DPRK delegation, led by Ri Son Gwon, chairman of the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Country (CPRC), crossed the military demarcation line (MDL) at around 0930 KST.
The delegation met with South Korean Minister of Unification Cho Myoung-gyon and other unification ministry officials, conducting talks throughout the day focused on the upcoming PyeongChang Olympics and military issues.
A delegation of North Korean journalists also joined officials on the visit South, though coverage of Tuesday’s talks is, as of 2230 KST, yet to appear in state media.
In the joint statement, the two Koreas said they agreed that Pyongyang will send a “high-level delegation, representatives of National Olympic Committee, athletes, cheering and performing art squads, a taekwondo demonstration team, and reporters” to the upcoming games.
“The South will guarantee the convenience” of the visit, the statement adds, stipulating that the Koreas will hold further talks on DPRK participation in the games.
An early report from the unification ministry said the North will also “positively review” prospects for a joint DPRK-ROK parade at the Olympics in February.
The South Korean side, the MOU reported, told the North today that it “would provide necessary conveniences considering the customs of the international community and the ones between the South and the North and the North’s position.”
Following an announcement by Seoul that North Korea had restored inter-Korean military communication channels on the western coast of the peninsula, Tuesday evening’s statement said the two Koreas would hold further talks on military issues.
“The South and North agreed to joint put efforts into easing military tensions and creating a peaceful environment on the Korean peninsula to promote national reconciliation and unity,” it read.
“The North and the South shared the viewed that both should resolve the situation of current military tensions, and agreed to hold military government talks.”
It also hinted at renewed inter-Korean engagement in future, saying that Seoul and Pyongyang will “promote contacts, exchanges, and cooperation in various fields.”
The statement also reaffirmed Pyongyang and Seoul’s continued support for past inter-Korean agreements as the “party directly involved.”
“The South and the North respect the South-North declarations, and will solve all the issues raised in the inter-Korean relations through dialogue and negotiation as the party directly involved in the issue of the Korean peninsula,” it said.
“For this, we will hold the South-North high-level talks as well as the meeting in each field to improve inter-Korean relations.”
While the two Koreas largely focused on practical and non-contentious issues on Tuesday, there were signs there had been disagreements throughout the day.
The initial televised meeting between Ri and Cho saw the North Korean delegation propose that the talks be held in public – a proposal dismissed by Seoul.
Tuesday evening’s joint statement also added that Ri had expressed “strong dissatisfaction” that South Korea had raised the issue of North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile program.
North Korea routinely insisted last year that it would not discuss its nuclear weapons development with Seoul, arguing that it was a matter between Pyongyang and the United States.
Ri also reportedly expressed displeasure about an announcement made by Seoul earlier in the day about the restoration of inter-Korean military communication channels on the western coast.
Speaking to press after the statement was issued, the DPRK chief delegate said the western channel had been re-opened on January 3, and that “we do all things on the day with the determination of our supreme leadership.”
Tuesday’s talks had gone well, he said, “unless the press mislead.”
While the South Korean side said that the nuclear issue had been raised, Ri also denied that it had been on the agenda.
“This is the meeting which we provide the first present of the new year to the entire nations,” he said. “But… absurd media reports that the denuclearization problem is the agenda of the meeting has been spread.”
“I don’t understand why these sounds have been circulating,” he continued. “…the cutting-edge strategic weapons including atomic and hydrogen bombs and intercontinental ballistic rocket completely target the U.S.”
“These don’t target [South Korea]. They also don’t target China and Russia.”
And while earlier statements saw Seoul propose imminent talks on organizing reunions of families separated by the Korean War, the joint statement contained no details about whether such talks would take place.
Seoul’s Cho Myoung-gyon told press that the North Korean delegation had acknowledged the U.S. and South Korea’s decision to delay planned joint military exercises until after the Olympics, while stressing its desire that drills are stopped for a more extended period of time.
“We didn’t discuss the details,” Cho said, when asked about plans to restart cooperation at the now-shuttered Kaesong Industrial Complex (KIC).
South Korea was unable to obtain North Korean support for family reunions, he added.
The apparent easing of tensions between the two Koreas in recent weeks began with Kim Jong Un’s New Year’s Speech in which the North Korean leader, while warning U.S. of the DPRK’s nuclear power, extended an apparent olive branch to Seoul.
Kim’s call for talks on North Korean participation in the upcoming PyeongChang games was swiftly met with a proposal from Seoul for talks.