North and South Korea will hold military talks to reduce tensions after a year on the nuclear brink

Kim Jong Un in front of a potato-flour factory in Pyongyang, North Korea.

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Kim Jong Un in front of a potato-flour factory in Pyongyang, North Korea.
source
Reuters/KCNA

  • North Korea and South Korea on Tuesday held talks for the first time in two years, and they emerged with a plan to hold military talks.
  • Some skeptics of the talks thought that North Korea might not be genuine or that South Korea might be overly eager to smooth things over.
  • But Seoul’s diplomats stood firm and brought up denuclearizing the peninsula – to the displeasure of Pyongyang.
  • Both sides made concessions in the talks, which may result in citizens of North Korea being allowed to attend the coming Pyeongchang Winter Olympics.

Diplomats from North Korea and South Korea emerged from the first formal talks between the two technically-still-at-war nations on Tuesday and declared they would hold military talks.

The talks, scheduled to discuss the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, which South Korea will host in February, veered into political and military territory, as President Donald Trump and much of the outside world hoped they would.

In a marked warming of relations, North Korea will send athletes and performers to the games, and South Korea expressed interest on relaxing restrictions on travel for North Koreans, possibly allowing them to visit the games.

The successful inclusion of North Korea could have a huge impact on ensuring a safe and successful Olympic Games.

But the talks had wider ramifications, including the opening of a military hotline that could serve as a first line of defense in de-escalating the extended brinkmanship among the US, South Korea, and North Korea.

South Korea appears to have remained firm in the talks by bringing up denuclearization, a move sure to please Washington and the more hawkish elements of the Trump administration, especially as some had feared that South Korea might be overly eager to smooth things over.

North Korea expressed a “negative sentiment” at the mention of denuclearization, a trajectory the country rejects, having written possession of nuclear weapons into its constitution under leader Kim Jong Un.

Skeptics of the talks point out that North Korea has often made overtures of peace to South Korean administrations after times of raised tensions, but the opening of a military hotline is a tangible step that provides both sides an off-ramp should violence threaten to break out.

Reports from the event describe a generally warm encounter Tuesday in which South Korea stuck to its principles and both sides left the majority of the disagreements for another day.

Nonetheless, the talks do carry a risk. North Korea has used them before to buy time only to back out later on, continuing the spiral of escalation.