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North Korea, South Korea agree to hold high-level talks

IANS | Seoul |

South Korea and North Korea on Friday agreed to hold high-level talks next week to discuss Pyongyang’s potential participation in the PyeongChang Winter Olympics and ways to improve bilateral ties.

North Korea notified that it has accepted South Korea’s latest offer for talks on January 9, Yonhap News Agency quoted the Unification Ministry as saying.

“The two sides decided to discuss working-level issues for the talks by exchanging documents,” Baik Tae-hyun, ministry spokesman at the ministry, told a press briefing.

The move comes as North Korean leader Kim Jong-un expressed willingness to send a delegation to the Olympics to be held in South Korea next month and said the country was open to inter-Korean talks over the matter.

The agreement came as South Korea and the US agreed late Thursday to delay their joint military drills during the Winter Olympics.

North Korea has long denounced the military drills as a war rehearsal and used them as an excuse for its provocations. But South Korea and the US said that the exercises were defensive in nature.

Next week’s talks will be the first inter-Korean dialogue since December 2015.

After a nine-year rule of two conservative governments, liberal President Moon Jae-in, who favours engagement with Pyongyang, took office in May 2016.

But North Korea’s nuclear and missile threats have prompted him to maintain the dual track of seeking sanctions and dialogue.

Seoul hopes that better inter-Korean relations can help pave the way for the resolution of North Korea’s nuclear issue and broader talks between Washington and Pyongyang.

Some experts said that North Korea’s overture to South Korea may be aimed at weakening the united front in enforcing sanctions on Pyongyang and driving a wedge in the decades-long alliance between Seoul and Washington.