North Korea accepts January 9 talks offer from South Korea

FILE PHOTO: North Korean leader Kim Jong Un watches the launch of a Hwasong-12 missile in this undated photo released by North Korea’s Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on September 16, 2017.
Reuters

North and South Korea will hold official talks next week for the first time in more than two years after Pyongyang accepted Seoul’s offer for dialogue, just hours after the United States and South Korea delayed a joint military exercise.

The South’s unification ministry said North Korea had sent its consent for the talks to be held on Jan. 9 in a statement at 0116 GMT. The last time the two Koreas engaged in official talks was in December 2015.

The talks will be held at the border truce village of Panmunjom and officials from both sides are expected to discuss the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics and the improvement of inter-Korean relations, ministry spokesman Baik Tae-hyun told a regular briefing.

North Korea asked for further negotiations regarding the meeting to be carried out via documented exchanges, Baik said. The officials to represent the two Koreas have yet to be confirmed.

The spokesman added there was no change to South Korea’s stance that efforts aimed at the denuclearization of North Korea should be continued, while Seoul would engage Pyongyang as it keeps close communications with the United States and allies.

North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un opened the way for talks with South Korea in a New Year’s Day speech in which he called for reduced tensions on the Korean peninsula and flagged the North’s possible participation in the Winter Olympics.

But Kim remained steadfast on the issue of nuclear weapons, saying the North would mass produce nuclear missiles for operational deployment and again warned he would launch a nuclear strike if his country was threatened.

U.S. President Donald Trump and his South Korean counterpart Moon Jae-in announced late on Thursday that annual large-scale military drills usually held in spring would now take place after the Winter Olympics scheduled for February in Pyeongchang.

The North sees these drills as exercises for a possible invasion. South Korea and the United States are technically still at war with North Korea after the 1950-53 Korean conflict ended with a truce, not a peace treaty.