Children pose in front of an electric board that shows the number of days left until the opening of 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympic Games as the official mascots, a white tiger “Soohorang” for the Olympic, left, and black bear “Bandabi” for the Paralympic, are displayed in Seoul, South Korea, Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2018. South Korea on Tuesday offered high-level talks with rival North Korea to find ways to cooperate on next month’s Winter Olympics in the South. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)

South Korea offers talks with North on Olympic co-operation

South Korea offered high-level talks with rival North Korea to find ways to cooperate on next month’s Winter Olympics

South Korea on Tuesday offered high-level talks with rival North Korea to find ways to co-operate on next month’s Winter Olympics in the South. Seoul’s quick proposal following a rare rapprochement overture from the North a day earlier offers the possibility of better ties after a year that saw a nuclear standoff increase fear of war on the Korean Peninsula.

In a closely watched New Year’s address, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said Monday that he was willing to send a delegation to the Olympics, though he also repeated fiery nuclear threats against the United States. Analysts say Kim may be trying to drive a wedge between Seoul and its ally Washington in a bid to reduce international isolation and sanctions against North Korea.

Kim’s overture was welcome news for a South Korean government led by liberal President Moon Jae-in, who favours dialogue to ease the North’s nuclear threats and wants to use the Pyeongchang Olympics as a chance to improve inter-Korean ties.

Moon’s unification minister, Cho Myoung-gyon, proposed in a nationally televised news conference that the two Koreas meet Jan. 9 at the shared border village of Panmunjom to discuss Olympic co-operation and how to improve overall ties.

Earlier Tuesday, Moon spoke of what he described as Kim’s positive response to his earlier dialogue overtures and ordered officials to study how to restore talks with North Korea and get the North to participate in the Olympics.

North Korea did not immediately react. But if there are talks, they would be the first formal dialogue between the Koreas since December 2015. Relations between the Koreas have plunged as North Korea has expanded its weapons programs amid a hard-line stance by Moon’s conservative predecessors.

Last year, North Korea conducted its sixth and most powerful nuclear test and test-launched three intercontinental ballistic missiles as part of its push to possess a nuclear missile capable of reaching anywhere in the United States. The North was subsequently hit with toughened U.N. sanctions, and Kim and President Donald Trump exchanged warlike rhetoric and crude personal insults against each other.

Kim said in his speech Monday that North Korea last year achieved the historic feat of “completing” its nuclear forces. Outside experts say that it’s only a matter of time before the North acquires the ability to hurl nuclear weapons at the mainland U.S., but that the country still has a few technologies to master, such as a warhead’s ability to survive atmospheric re-entry.

Talks could provide a temporary thaw in strained inter-Korean ties, but conservative critics worry that they may only earn the North time to perfect its nuclear weapons. After the Olympics, inter-Korean ties could become frosty again because the North has made it clear it has no intention of accepting international calls for nuclear disarmament and instead wants to bolster its weapons arsenal in the face of what it considers increasing U.S. threats.

“Kim Jong Un’s strategy remains the same. He’s developing nukes while trying to weaken international pressure and the South Korea-U.S. military alliance and get international sanctions lifted,” said Shin Beomchul of the Seoul-based Korea National Diplomatic Academy.

He said the North might also be using its potential participation in the Pyeongchang Olympics as a chance to show its nuclear program is not intended to pose a threat to regional peace.

In his address Monday, Kim said the United States should be aware that his country’s nuclear forces are now a reality, not a threat. He said he has a “nuclear button” on his office desk, warning that “the whole territory of the U.S. is within the range of our nuclear strike.”

He called for improved ties and a relaxation of military tensions with South Korea, saying the Winter Olympics could showcase the status of the Korean nation. But Kim also repeated that South Korea must stop annual military exercises with the United States, which he calls an invasion rehearsal against the North.

About 28,500 American troops are stationed in South Korea to help deter potential aggression from the North, a legacy of the 1950-53 Korean War, which ended with an armistice, not a peace treaty.

Hyung-Jin Kim, The Associated Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

 

Visitors use binoculars to see the North Korea side from the unification observatory in Paju, South Korea, Monday, Jan. 1, 2018. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said Monday the United States should be aware that his country’s nuclear forces are now a reality, not a threat. But he also struck a conciliatory tone in his New Year’s address, wishing success for the Winter Olympics set to begin in the South in February and suggesting the North may send a delegation to participate. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)

A visitor uses binoculars to see the North Korea side from the unification observatory in Paju, South Korea, Monday, Jan. 1, 2018. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said Monday the United States should be aware that his country’s nuclear forces are now a reality, not a threat. But he also struck a conciliatory tone in his New Year’s address, wishing success for the Winter Olympics set to begin in the South in February and suggesting the North may send a delegation to participate. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)

South Korean President Moon Jae-in, right, speaks during a cabinet meeting at the presidential Blue House in Seoul, South Korea, Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2018. (Kim Ju-hyoung/Yonhap via AP)

Just Posted

Qualicum Beach on path to ban plastic bags

Bylaw will get legal advice prior to third reading

RDN to improve ways to deal with bylaw disputes

New system being explored that will be more efficient and effective

Hotel, restaurant and multi-use residential complex proposed for Resort Drive

Parksville could soon see more rental units, some zoned for commercial use

Inside the music: step behind the curtain at the venerable Vancouver Island Music Festival

Big Read: VIMF in the Comox Valley exemplifies the spirit of an Island summer music festival

ECHO Players’ 2018/19 season announced

Qualicum Beach theatre company to show Peter Pan musical, Enchanted April and more

BC Games: Day 2 comes to an end

Hundreds of medals have been handed out at the 2018 BC Summer Games in the Cowichan Valley

Recovery high schools could help teens before addiction takes hold: B.C. parents

Schools could provide mental health supports and let parents discuss their children’s drug use openly

Haida Gwaii village faces housing crisis, targets short-term rentals

Housing is tight and the village is pretty close to zero vacancy

Evacuation numbers remain at nearly 1,000 as B.C. wildfires rage on

200 firefighters and 18 helicopters were working to increase the containment of the fires

B.C. VIEWS: Unions regain control of public construction

B.C.’s 40-year battle swings back to international big labour

Brush fire breaks out west of Port Alberni

Fire forces partial closure of Highway 4 heading to Ucluelet and Tofino

Accident on Vancouver Island after artillery gun rolls down hill and damages taxi

Witness says accident happend about 1 p.m. Saturday; RCMP investigating

B.C. mining company, involved in 2014 spill, ordered to pay lost wages

Mount Polley Mining Company must pay wages to 26 employees who were laid off without proper notice

Two significant wildfires burning in southeastern B.C.

More than 20 fires were burning in the Southeast Fire Centre as of Saturday afternoon

Most Read