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SBD Global/January 3, 2018/Olympics

S. Korea Proposes Talks With N. Korea; Kim Jong-Un Plans To Send Team To PyeongChang

South Korea proposed holding "high-level talks" with North Korea next week, a day after the regime's leader, Kim Jong-un, said that he was "prepared to send a delegation of athletes to next month's Winter Olympics" in PyeongChang, according to Justin McCurry of the London GUARDIAN. In a "cautious indication of progress" in inter-Korean relations after a year of tensions over Pyongyang's ballistic missile program, South Korea Minister of Unification Cho Myoung-gyon said that the offer reiterated "our willingness to hold talks with the North at any time and place, and in any form." Cho proposed that the two Koreas meet next Tuesday at the border village of Panmunjom, where they last held high-level talks in Dec. '15. North Korea has yet to respond to the offer, and U.S. President Donald Trump said on Tuesday that he was "withholding judgement on the offer to talk." Trump tweeted, "Sanctions and 'other' pressures are beginning to have a big impact on North Korea. 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!" (GUARDIAN, 1/2). In London, Jung-a & Manson reported Seoul's proposal came after South Korea President Moon Jae-in ordered his staff to "act swiftly" on Kim's offer of dialogue. Moon, who took power last May, proposed military talks with North Korea last year that were "rebuffed by Pyongyang." Bong Young-shik, a North Korea expert at Yonsei University, said that Pyongyang's offer of dialogue was a "shift in tactics." Bong: "[North Korea] used to set aside Seoul and wanted to deal with Washington directly. Now, by talking to Seoul instead, it is hoping that this will provide a temporary breathing space even for a few months from the tough economic sanctions" (FINANCIAL TIMES, 1/2). BLOOMBERG's Kanga Kong reported Kim's speech on Monday was the "most promising peace overture from North Korea" since Trump took office and began "ratcheting up pressure with increased sanctions and threats of war." Yet it will also "test the strength of the U.S.-South Korean alliance, which became strained at times last year over the best way to halt North Korea’s nuclear threat." Duyeon Kim, a visiting senior fellow at the Seoul-based Korean Peninsula Future Forum, said, "It's a positive message that now puts the ball in Seoul and Washington's court. Kim focused a lot on improving North-South relations, which increases the chances of trying to drive a wedge between the allies, so it will be important for Seoul to keep Washington in the loop every step of the way and coordinate with the U.S. going forward" (BLOOMBERG, 1/1).
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