Children pose in front of an electric board that shows the number of days left until the opening of 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympic Games as the official mascots, a white tiger “Soohorang” for the Olympic, left, and black bear “Bandabi” for the Paralympic, are displayed in Seoul, South Korea, Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2018. South Korea on Tuesday offered high-level talks with rival North Korea to find ways to cooperate on next month’s Winter Olympics in the South. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)

South Korea offers talks with North on Olympic co-operation

South Korea offered high-level talks with rival North Korea to find ways to cooperate on next month’s Winter Olympics

South Korea on Tuesday offered high-level talks with rival North Korea to find ways to co-operate on next month’s Winter Olympics in the South. Seoul’s quick proposal following a rare rapprochement overture from the North a day earlier offers the possibility of better ties after a year that saw a nuclear standoff increase fear of war on the Korean Peninsula.

In a closely watched New Year’s address, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said Monday that he was willing to send a delegation to the Olympics, though he also repeated fiery nuclear threats against the United States. Analysts say Kim may be trying to drive a wedge between Seoul and its ally Washington in a bid to reduce international isolation and sanctions against North Korea.

Kim’s overture was welcome news for a South Korean government led by liberal President Moon Jae-in, who favours dialogue to ease the North’s nuclear threats and wants to use the Pyeongchang Olympics as a chance to improve inter-Korean ties.

Moon’s unification minister, Cho Myoung-gyon, proposed in a nationally televised news conference that the two Koreas meet Jan. 9 at the shared border village of Panmunjom to discuss Olympic co-operation and how to improve overall ties.

Earlier Tuesday, Moon spoke of what he described as Kim’s positive response to his earlier dialogue overtures and ordered officials to study how to restore talks with North Korea and get the North to participate in the Olympics.

North Korea did not immediately react. But if there are talks, they would be the first formal dialogue between the Koreas since December 2015. Relations between the Koreas have plunged as North Korea has expanded its weapons programs amid a hard-line stance by Moon’s conservative predecessors.

Last year, North Korea conducted its sixth and most powerful nuclear test and test-launched three intercontinental ballistic missiles as part of its push to possess a nuclear missile capable of reaching anywhere in the United States. The North was subsequently hit with toughened U.N. sanctions, and Kim and President Donald Trump exchanged warlike rhetoric and crude personal insults against each other.

Kim said in his speech Monday that North Korea last year achieved the historic feat of “completing” its nuclear forces. Outside experts say that it’s only a matter of time before the North acquires the ability to hurl nuclear weapons at the mainland U.S., but that the country still has a few technologies to master, such as a warhead’s ability to survive atmospheric re-entry.

Talks could provide a temporary thaw in strained inter-Korean ties, but conservative critics worry that they may only earn the North time to perfect its nuclear weapons. After the Olympics, inter-Korean ties could become frosty again because the North has made it clear it has no intention of accepting international calls for nuclear disarmament and instead wants to bolster its weapons arsenal in the face of what it considers increasing U.S. threats.

“Kim Jong Un’s strategy remains the same. He’s developing nukes while trying to weaken international pressure and the South Korea-U.S. military alliance and get international sanctions lifted,” said Shin Beomchul of the Seoul-based Korea National Diplomatic Academy.

He said the North might also be using its potential participation in the Pyeongchang Olympics as a chance to show its nuclear program is not intended to pose a threat to regional peace.

In his address Monday, Kim said the United States should be aware that his country’s nuclear forces are now a reality, not a threat. He said he has a “nuclear button” on his office desk, warning that “the whole territory of the U.S. is within the range of our nuclear strike.”

He called for improved ties and a relaxation of military tensions with South Korea, saying the Winter Olympics could showcase the status of the Korean nation. But Kim also repeated that South Korea must stop annual military exercises with the United States, which he calls an invasion rehearsal against the North.

About 28,500 American troops are stationed in South Korea to help deter potential aggression from the North, a legacy of the 1950-53 Korean War, which ended with an armistice, not a peace treaty.

Hyung-Jin Kim, The Associated Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

 

Visitors use binoculars to see the North Korea side from the unification observatory in Paju, South Korea, Monday, Jan. 1, 2018. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said Monday the United States should be aware that his country’s nuclear forces are now a reality, not a threat. But he also struck a conciliatory tone in his New Year’s address, wishing success for the Winter Olympics set to begin in the South in February and suggesting the North may send a delegation to participate. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)

A visitor uses binoculars to see the North Korea side from the unification observatory in Paju, South Korea, Monday, Jan. 1, 2018. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said Monday the United States should be aware that his country’s nuclear forces are now a reality, not a threat. But he also struck a conciliatory tone in his New Year’s address, wishing success for the Winter Olympics set to begin in the South in February and suggesting the North may send a delegation to participate. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)

South Korean President Moon Jae-in, right, speaks during a cabinet meeting at the presidential Blue House in Seoul, South Korea, Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2018. (Kim Ju-hyoung/Yonhap via AP)

Just Posted

UPDATE: Rockslide keeps Coquihalla northbound lane closed

Highway 5 is closed in one direction.

UPDATE: Wind warning ends for Metro Vancouver after thousands lose power

More than 34,000 BC Hydro customers in the dark on Sunday morning in the Lower Mainland and Sunshine Coast

WIND WARNING: Metro Vancouver expecting 100 km/h gusts Saturday night

Environment Canada issues warns of possibly dangerous conditions

Fire crews battling Laidlaw house fire

Neighbours say the family are safe, still unconfirmed by fire department

Gear swap in Langley helps make ball hockey more accessible for kids

A new initiative allows parents to empty garages of unused equipment and get new kids in the sport.

REPLAY: B.C. this week in video

In case you missed it, here’s a look at replay-worthy highlights from across the province this week

UK’s Princess Eugenie, daughter of Prince Andrew, engaged

Princess Eugenie, the daughter of Prince Andrew and his ex-wife Sarah Ferguson, will marry Jack Brooksbank in Autumn 2018

German nurse charged with 97 more murders

Niels Hoegel, serving a life sentence for two murders, has been indicted in nearly 100 more killings.

Two men guilty in murders of Alberta family could face 75 years

The pair were found guilty of first-degree murder in the shooting deaths of Klaus’s parents and sister in a rural home near Castor, Alberta

With Senate talks falling short, U.S. shutdown enters workweek

President Donald Trump accused Democrats of prioritizing services and security for noncitizens over U.S. citizens

Toronto mayor wants city to co-host 2026 FIFA World Cup

The mayor of Canada’s most populous city says he wants Toronto to be among the North American cities to co-host the 2026 FIFA World Cup

With a lighter touch, SAG Awards follows a familiar script

Morgan Freeman accepts the Life Achievement Award at the 24th annual Screen Actors Guild Awards on Sunday

S. Koreans burn Kim’s photo as N. Korean band leader passes

South Korean activists burned a large photo of Kim Jong Un as an extremely popular girl band passed them

Most Read