The rival Koreas moved toward reducing their bitter animosity Tuesday during rare talks, with North Korea agreeing to take part in next month’s Winter Olympics in South Korea. The countries also agreed to hold more discussions on easing tension along their border and to reopen a military hotline.
The first meeting of its kind between the nations in about two years was arranged after North Korean leader Kim Jong Un made an abrupt push for improved ties with South Korea following a year of escalating tensions with the outside world over his expanding nuclear and missile programs.
Critics say Kim may be trying to divide Seoul and Washington in a bid to weaken international pressure and sanctions on the North. In comments that appeared to back up those critical views, chief North Korean delegate Ri Son Gwon said his country’s nuclear weapons are aimed at the United States, not South Korea.
Despite Ri’s comments, the agreements were still seen to be a positive move. Chief South Korean delegate Cho Myoung-gyon described the accords as a “first step toward the development of South-North relations” when he briefed reporters about the meeting.
In another key accord Tuesday, North Korea also agreed to hold military talks aimed at reducing animosity along the border and restore a military hotline communication channel with South Korea, according to Cho. All major inter-Korean communication channels had been shut down over the North’s nuclear program in recent years. But North Korea reopened one channel last week as signs emerged of improving ties.