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South Korea willing to help North participate in Olympics

By Sheetal Sukhija, Idaho State News
03 Jan 2018, 07:33 GMT+10

SEOUL, South Korea - After the North Korean leader Kim Jong Un expressed his apparent willingness to enter into dialogue and even participate in the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang - South Korea welcomed the move.

During a Cabinet meeting on Tuesday in Seoul, the South Korea President Moon Jae In welcomed Kim Jong Un's willingness to enter into dialogue and called for swift measures to help North Korea participate in the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang.

Striking an unusually conciliatory note in his annual New Year's Day address, the North Korean leader declared his hope "for (a) peaceful resolution with our southern border."

In the televised speech on Monday, Jong Un called for peace on the Korean Peninsula.

He said North Korean representatives should start talks with their South Korean counterparts "as soon as possible" about sending a delegation to the 2018 Winter Games next month in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

The statement comes as a brief victory for Moon Jae In, who has long advocated for closer relations with the North.

Jae In described Jong Un’s remarks "as a response to our proposal to turn the Pyeongchang Olympic Games into an epoch-making opportunity to improve inter-Korean relations and establish peace."

The South Korean president added that he would ask the Unification Ministry, which is the government department responsible for inter-Korean relations, and the Ministry of Culture and Sports "to quickly come up with follow-up measures for the speedy restoration of South-North Korean dialogue and realize the North Korean delegation's participation in the Pyeongchang Olympics."

The U.S. President Donald Trump stated recently that sanctions have started having "a big impact" on North Korea and its leader, whom he calls "Rocket man."

On Tuesday, Trump tweeted, “Soldiers are dangerously fleeing to South Korea. Rocket man now wants to talk to South Korea for first time. Perhaps that is good news, perhaps not - we will see!"

Meanwhile, on Tuesday, South Korean Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon suggested high-level government talks with North Korea could be held as soon as January 9 in Panmunjom in the Demilitarized Zone.

Cho said during a press briefing in Seoul, "The government proposes the North to hold high-level, inter-Korean government talks at the Peace House of Panmunjom in consideration that the Winter Olympics is about a month away and to discuss related matters such as the participation of North Korea's delegation in the Pyeongchang Olympics.”

Cho added his government would remain "open to suggestions" as to the "timing, venue and format" of any future dialogue with the North.

However, North Korea is yet to respond to the South's offer. 

Even China, which has stressed on both the countries engaging in talks despite Trump’s heated rhetoric, welcomed the efforts, with the country’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs encouraged the efforts from both the North and South to improve relations.

The South Korean President has championed the 2018 Winter Olympics, which is set to begin February 9, as a possible means of easing tensions on the Korean Peninsula. 

Experts that were left baffled at the North Korean leader’s sudden willingness to reach out to the South, have suggested that it may be part of a strategy to drive a wedge between long time allies Seoul and Washington.

According to Rodger Baker, vice president of strategic analysis for the intelligence firm Stratfor said that Kim Jong Un may be seeking to "exploit Seoul's sense of insecurity" by enlisting it in pushing back against tighter U.S. containment.

Referring to Moon's comments made in November, in which he hinted at the possibility of delaying joint military exercises with the U.S. until after the Olympics, Baker said, "By suggesting North Korea will send a delegation to the Olympics, the North may also add impetus to the South's offer to delay joint defense exercises with the U.S., and may add to some of the differences between Seoul and Washington in coordinated North Korea policies.”

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