Officials from North Korea accepted South Korea’s offer and will send athletes to next month’s Winter Olympics as the two sides began long-anticipated talks on Tuesday. North Korea agreed to send athletes, officials and reporters to the games, as well as its cheerleading group and taekwondo demonstration athletes. South Korea proposed the two countries march together in the Opening Ceremonies, a point which will be further debated Tuesday afternoon.
In their opening statement, South Korea mentioned further denuclearization talks between the two countries, but the point was not acknowledged by North Korean officials in early discussions.
“In addition, we proposed resuming temporary reunions of families separated by war and holding inter-Korean Red Cross talks to discuss this,” Chun Hae-sung, South Korean Vice Unification Minister, said after the morning talks. “Along with this, we also proposed holding inter-Korean military talks designed to reduce animosities in frontline areas.”
Negotiations were continuing on those proposals by the South.
Five representatives from the highest levels of both governments — including South Korean Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon and the North Korean chairman of the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Country, Ri Son-gwon — kicked off by meeting with a symbolic crossing by the northern delegation into the South-controlled building called House of Peace.
Neither president is in attendance, but the South’s leader, President Moon Jae-in, will be watching the talks on CCTV live with audio. His counterpart, Kim Jong Un, can only listen and not watch.
Journalists from both countries reported on the meeting by the minute, and described the mood as “good.” At 10 a.m. South Korean time, the officials shook hands and took their seats.
In his opening remarks, Ri made the surprising suggestion of broadcasting the talks live to show how they are “efforting to work” on the talks “in a transparent manner.”
“We want to give the entire nation a New Year’s present with a precious conclusion,” he said, referring to both countries.
South Korea’s Cho, however, said the talks should be closed, and they would perhaps show them live later if necessary.
The talks will focus on, among other things, who will bear the costs for the trip and the size of the North Korean delegation.
These are the first inter-Korean talks in 25 months. They come just eight days after the North Korean leader announced he would like to send a delegation to the Winter Olympics during his annual New Year’s Day speech.
The South welcomed the proposal, and followed up by reconnecting the direct communication link at the joint security area between the two Koreas.
Reaction was mixed among the South Koreans who ABC News interviewed about the talks.
“I think it’s good that North and South are actually talking at last,” student Jiwon Kim, 26, told ABC News. “The last two regimes in South Korea did not have a chance to reconciliate with North Korea. Maybe this will lead to talks about peace or could lead to reunification between the two Koreas. I think the talks signal an important start.”
North Korea sent a delegation to the Summer Olympics in 2016, but last sent a team to the Winter Olympics in 2010, skipping the 2014 games held in Sochi, Russia.
As proposed for 2018, North Korea and South Korea marching together in the Opening Ceremonies is not unheard of. The two countries marched under the Korean Unification Flag during the Summer Olympics in 2000 and 2004, and the Winter Olympics in 2006. The countries competed separately each time.
The talks also come as U.S. President Donald Trump is having a war of words with Kim — recently taunting the North Korean leader by saying his “nuclear button” was “much bigger & more powerful” than his. The two countries have traded insults for months, with South Korea stuck in the middle.
“I am seriously worried about South Korea’s future,” Seoul resident and businesswoman Eun-Young Kim, 51, told ABC News. “Looking at the North-South talks that have been organized so abruptly after Kim Jong Un’s decision, South Korea seems to be in the palm of North Korea’s hands.”