The two Koreas have agreed to hold military talks after their first official talks in two years, where they discussed the upcoming Winter Olympics. They also agreed to reopen a military hotline linking the countries.
North and South Korea have agreed to hold talks on reducing military tensions and “actively cooperate” in next month’s Winter Olympics in South Korea, they said in a joint statement on Tuesday, South Korean media reported.
The decision to hold the military talks comes after the two countries concluded their first talks in two years to discuss the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
Read more: What to expect from North and South Korea meeting ahead of Winter Olympics
But a discussion of North Korea’s nuclear program and its weapons arsenal would negatively impact inter-Korean ties, a North Korean official said.
“North Korea’s weapons are only aimed at the United States, not our brethren, China or Russia,” said Ri Son Gwon, head of North Korea’s delegation, adding that Pyongyang’s nuclear program was not an issue between North and South Korea.
A ‘great step forward’
North Korea offered to send athletes and a high-level delegation to the games, as well as journalists, a cheering squad, a team of performing artists and a taekwondo demonstration team, according to South Korean officials.
The International Olympic Commitee said North Korea’s participation was a “great step forward” for the Olympics.
Delegations of five senior officials from each side met at the “peace house” on the South Korean side of the Panmunjom truce village as the two countries officially held talks for the first time in two years.
South Korea proposed that the athletes from both countries march together at the opening and closing ceremonies, South Korea’s Vice Unification Minister Chun Hae-sung told reporters. He also said his country proposed resuming family reunions and military discussions to prevent “accidental clashes” in frontline areas.
During the talks, North and South agreed to restore a military hotline, less than a week after an civilian cross-border phone link was reopened. The hotline is due to be fully operational by Wednesday.
“Accordingly, our side decided to start using the military telephone line, starting 8 a.m. tomorrow,” Hae-sung said.
Read more: North Korea ‘likely’ to take part in Winter Olympics in South Korea
‘A New Year’s gift’
Entering the talks, officials from both countries made positive statements about discussions concerning the Winter Olympics.
“I think we should be engaged in these talks with an earnest, sincere manner to give a New Year’s first gift — precious results to the Korean nation,” Ri said.
Cho Myoung-gyon, South Korea’s Unification Minister, believed the Pyeongchang Olympics “will become a peace Olympics as most valuable guests from the North are going to join many others from around the world.”
Ri and Cho shook hands as they entered the peace house and again across the table where the talks took place.
“The people have a strong desire to see the North and South move toward peace and reconciliation,” Cho said.
China, Russia, US welcome talks
China said it welcomed the high-level talks between the North and South Korea representatives ahead of the Olympics.
“We are very pleased that the high-level talks between the two Koreas could be held,” said spokesman Lu Kang. “As a neighbour of the Korean peninsula, China welcomes and supports the recent positive actions taken by the two Koreas to ease their mutual relations.”
Russia also welcomed the conversation between the two. “This is exactly the kind of dialogue that we said was necessary,” a Kremlin spokesman said on Tuesday.
US President Donald Trump, who has taken repeated jabs at Kim on his Twitter account, had also called the talks “a good thing.” But the US ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, later said the administration was not changing its conditions regarding US talks with North Korea, saying Kim would first need to stop weapons testing for a “significant amount of time.”
Tuesday’s summit was arranged after North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong Un, recently called for improved relations with South Korea.
North Korea’s push to develop nuclear weapons in defiance of United Nations Security Council resolutions had stoked tensions with the South.