North and South Korea are conducting official talks for the first time in more than two years, ahead of the upcoming Pyeongchang Winter Olympics and Paralympics.
Five senior officials from each side met at the Peace House on the South Korean side of the Panmunjom truce village in the Demilitarized Zone. Both parties have expressed optimism regarding the outcome of the discussions which will review suitable measures to allow the participation of athletes from The North in both competitions.
“We came to this meeting today with the thought of giving our brethren, who have high hopes for this dialogue, invaluable results as the first present of the year,” head of North Korea’s delegation, Ri Son Gwon, said.
Outside the Demilitarized Zone, some 20 South Koreans were seen waving a banner that read: “We wish the success of the high-ranking inter-Korean talks.” One man also hoisted a flag displaying a unified Korean peninsula.
According to Ri, North Korea has entered the talks with a “serious and sincere stance.” The chairman of the North’s Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Fatherland's counterpart, South Korea’s Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon, also expressed a similar sentiment.
“Our talks began after North and South Korea were severed for a long time, but I believe the first step is half the trip,” Cho added. “It would be good for us to make that ‘good present’ you mentioned earlier.”
In his opening remarks, Cho had said: “We have experienced power of the people and we have [an] understanding that the inter-Korean relations should be headed to establish reconciliation and peace. We have high expectations that the Olympics turn out to be a peace festival with special guests from the North.”
Ri added that he was optimistic as long as their “innocent intention and cooperation are united.”
“We will make efforts to make the Pyeongchang games and the Paralympics a ‘peace festival’ and help it serve as the first step toward an improvement in inter-Korean ties. “To meet people’s expectations, we will not be in a hurry and we will hold the talks in a calm manner,” Cho stated.
Special adviser on foreign affairs and national security to South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in, Moon Chung-in, stated that: "When the ancient Greeks used to hold the Olympics, they held a truce. We are living in a civilized world. It is the logical choice."
The initial discussion lasted a little over an hour.
Meetings of the two Koreas are being closely watched by world leaders amid continued tensions on the Korean peninsula over mounting fears stemming from North Korea’s development of nuclear weapons and defiance of the United Nations Security Council resolutions.
According to a Reuters report, both sides seek to mend fences by improving inter-Korean relations. Cho added that his delegation is also open to reviewing a possible resumption of reunions of family members separated by the Korean War.
Other South Korean officials expressed hope that the two Koreas may even march under a single flag at the Winter Games, which would be the first in more than a decade. Athletes from the North and South made joint entrances to the opening and closing ceremonies in Sydney (2000), Athens (2004) and the 2006 Winter Games in Turin.
The U.S. State Department is somewhat concern that Pyongyang “might be trying to drive a wedge” between Washington and Seoul and weaken the U.S.-led disarmament campaign against North Korea.
U.S. President Donald Trump commented that he would like to see talks go beyond the Olympics, adding: “At the appropriate time, we’ll get involved.”
The North agreed to meet after Seoul and Washington agreed to discontinue joint military exercises until the Winter Paralympics ends on 18 March. The PyeongChang games start on Feb. 9.