North Korea on Tuesday confirmed its participation in the PyeongChang Winter Olympics, and agreed to hold military talks with South Korea.
The agreement came in the first inter-Korean talks to be held in more than two years.
South Korean Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon (left) exchanges a joint press statement with the head of North Korean delegation Ri Son-gwon at their meeting at the Panmunjeom in the DMZ in Paju, South Korea, Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2018. (AP-Yonhap)
South Korea’s delegation, led by Minister of Unification Cho Myoung-gyon, and the North Korean delegation met at Panmunjeom at 10 a.m. The North Korean delegation was led by Ri Son-gwon, the chairman of the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Country. The CPRC is North Korea’s state agency handling inter-Korean affairs.
“The South and the North agreed to collaborate in facilitating reconciliation and unity by easing military tension, and to establish a peaceful environment,” the two sides said in a joint press statement.
“The South and the North agreed on the need to ease military tensions and to hold military talks to resolve the issue.”
The statement went on to stress that the two Koreas will take the lead in resolving “all issues raised in inter-Korean relations.”
Under the agreement, the North will send in addition to the athletes, an Olympic Committee delegation, cheering squad, cultural performance troupe, taekwondo demonstration group, delegation of observers and press.
In addition, the two Koreas agreed to hold further high-level talks and engage in dialogue concerning other areas of inter-Korean relations.
The matter of holding reunions of families separated by the 1950-53 Korean War, however, was not mentioned in the statement.
In its assessment of the talks, the Ministry of Unification echoed Cheong Wa Dae’s earlier assessment that the talks will pave the way for improving inter-Korean relations.
The ministry also said the talks served to relay the Moon Jae-in administration’s North Korean policies and improve mutual understanding.
The talks, however, did not end without friction between the two sides.
According to Seoul officials, Ri expressed “strong discontent” at the South Korean delegation’s mention of denuclearization at the start of the talks.
At the opening of the meeting at 10 a.m., the South Korean delegation suggested military talks as well as family reunions in February, and called on the North to reduce tensions on the peninsula and “resume dialogue to establish peace including denuclearization.”
In the final meeting, Ri is also said to have expressed discontent at South Korea’s decision to announce the re-establishment of the West Sea military hotline, saying the line had been revived on Jan. 3.
The two Koreas installed military hotlines on the east and west sides of the country in 2009. The West Sea line was deactivated by the North in 2016 after the inter-Korean Kaesong industrial park was shut down in 2016. The East Sea hotline was lost in a wildfire in 2010.
Tuesday’s talks lasted nearly 12 hours, with the two sides holding a number of meetings interspersed with breaks.
The initial meeting, involving all delegation members, lasted just over an hour before breaking at 11:05 a.m. The talks resumed at 11:30 a.m., though just between the chief delegates.
The two sides held another four meetings that excluded the chief delegates, before the final meeting at 8 p.m.
By Choi He-suk, Jung Min-kyung & Joint Press Corps(firstname.lastname@example.org