Optimism is high as the much anticipated intra-Korean talks, the first in two years, kicked off Tuesday, with the head of the N. Korean delegation hoping the “serious and sincere” negotiations will deliver “valuable” results.
“Today, North and South Korea will engage in talks in a serious and sincere stance,” Ri Son Gwon, the chairman of the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Country, said.
Ri, who leads the 5-member North Korean negotiation team, shook hands with his South Korean counterpart, Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon at the start of the talks, saying he hopes for “precious” results, as cited by Yonhap.
“They will go well,” Ri said. The main item on the agenda is expected to be North Korean possible participation in the upcoming Winter Olympic Games in PyeongChang, as well as finding ways to improve the strained and frosty relations between the two Koreas.
Ahead of the talks, Cho said he hopes the respective delegations would be able to turn the Olympics and Paralympics set for next month into “a peace festival” and that the meeting in the Korean Demilitarized Zone would serve as a “first step” towards a thaw in relations. Touching on the schedule, the South Korean delegation chief did not provide any details, but said the delegates “will not be in a hurry” and that the talks will proceed “in a calm manner.”
Seoul’s war games with Washington, on one hand, and Pyongyang’s missile and nuclear tests, on the other, have hampered contact between the two Koreas, and the Tuesday’s sit down comes after a rare call for rapprochement by North Korean leader during his New Year address. Kim Jong-un proposed the countries reestablish dialogue aimed at easing military tensions that has escalated, particularly in the last year.
Seoul welcomed the initiative, proposing a concrete offer for talks which was subsequently agreed to by Pyongyang.
The decision to reactivate the diplomatic hotline, followed by the meeting, comes after Washington agreed to delay the joint military drills with Seoul after South Korean President Moon Jae-in appealed to Donald Trump to postpone the exercises until the end of the Olympics.
The US, meanwhile, cast doubt on Pyongyang’s motives and the overall purpose of the talks, with State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert suggesting the North Korean leader is not to be trusted as he essentially may be trying “to drive a wedge” between the US and South Korea during the talks.
While Washington has no seat at the negotiation table, unlike previously, it did not stop the US leader from taking credit for enabling the talks, which he said were only possible because of his “tough stance” on North Korea.