SEOUL, South Korea — Delegations from North and South Korea could meet for the first official discussions between the neighbors since 2015 ahead of the PyeongChang Winter Olympics.
South Korea proposed Tuesday that talks be held on Jan. 9, said Cho Myoung-gyon, the head of his country’s Unification Ministry. He said that Seoul had consulted with the U.S. and had Washington’s blessing.
South Korea’s overture was in response to comments made by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in a New Year’s Day speech. He suggested immediate talks with Seoul over sending a delegation to the Olympics.
“North Korea’s participation in the Winter Games will be a good opportunity to show unity of the people, and we wish the Games will be a success,” Kim said.
North Korea did not immediately respond to South Korea’s invitation. But the Unification Ministry said it made the terms simple: its delegation would meet Kim's delegation anytime, anywhere and that any format for the talks would be acceptable.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in has repeatedly expressed hope that North Korea would participate at the Olympics. He sees their attendance as an opportunity for greater peace on the Korean Peninsula.
Key moments in 2017 between US and North Korea
Key moments in 2017 between US and North Korea
NEW YEARS DAY MISSILE LAUNCH
On January 1, 2017, North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un warned that an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) was in the 'final stages' of development.
During a visit to North Korea's border on March 17, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was unwittingly photographed by a North Korean soldier, who can be seen peering into the room on the right side of the image.
President Trump called North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un 'a pretty smart cookie' in an interview that went viral on April 30.
'At a very young age, he was able to assume power. A lot of people, I'm sure, tried to take that power away, whether it was his uncle or anybody else. And he was able to do it. So obviously, he's a pretty smart cookie,' Trump told CBS News.
The president also said he'd be 'honored' to meet with the North Korean leader.
KIM JONG UN'S LETTER TO CONGRESS
In early May, North Korea said it would continue its nuclear weapons tests and boost force 'to the maximum' in a stark warning to the U.S.
U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley said North Korea's actions were 'quickly closing off the possibility of a diplomatic solution' and that the United States was prepared to use force 'if we must.'
'PILE OF ASH'
In a bold statement, North Korea threatened to turn the U.S. into a 'pile of ash' on July 12.
US THREATENED WITH 'MERCILESS BLOW'
On July 27, a North Korean spokesperson said, 'Should the U.S. dare to show even the slightest sign of attempt to remove our supreme leadership, we will strike a merciless blow at the heart of the U.S. with our powerful nuclear hammer, honed and hardened over time.'
On December 20, it was reported that North Korea is testing whether its ICBM weapons are capable of carrying anthrax.
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During Moon’s campaign and since taking office in May, he’s made it clear he plans to re-engage with North Korea after communications ground to a halt under previous administrations.
According to the Unification Ministry, the last official inter-Korea talks were held in December 2015. They followed a period of escalating tensions during which South Korean soldiers were injured by landmines in the Demilitarized Zone and the neighbors exchanged artillery fire across the border.
North Korea has said in public statements that it wants an official end to the Korean War. The conflict was halted by a 1953 armistice but no peace treaty has been signed. It also wants nothing short of full normalization of relations with the U.S. and to be treated with respect and as an equal in the global arena.
The U.S. military has also conducted large-scale shows of force in the region, while Kim increased the pace of ballistic missile tests over the past year.
Amid the tensions, the North Korean dictator said Monday that "a nuclear button is always on my desk."
Kim added: "The entire United States is within range of our nuclear weapons."
In September, North Korea conducted its sixth and most powerful nuclear test. However, analysts say that based on the current evidence it's hard to prove or debunk North Korea's claim that it can now hit faraway American targets such as New York or Washington, D.C.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said on Twitter Monday that allowing North Korea to participate in the Olympics "would give legitimacy to the most illegitimate regime on the planet." He also suggested that the U.S. should not participate in the Games if athletes from the North did.
Graham also called North Korea's offer for talks an "absurd overture."
The International Olympic Committee is the formal channel for deciding which countries are invited.
Allowing Kim Jong Un’s North Korea to participate in #WinterOlympics would give legitimacy to the most illegitimate regime on the planet.
I’m confident South Korea will reject this absurd overture and fully believe that if North Korea goes to the Winter Olympics, we do not.