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(2nd LD) Koreas agree to hold high-level talks next week

2018-01-05 11:07

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   (ATTN: UPDATES with more info, background throughout)
   SEOUL, Jan. 5 (Yonhap) -- South and North Korea agreed Friday to hold high-level talks next week to discuss Pyongyang's potential participation in the PyeongChang Winter Olympics and ways to improve ties.

   North Korea notified Seoul that it has accepted South Korea's latest offer for talks next Tuesday, according to Seoul's unification ministry.

   "The two sides decided to discuss working-level issues for the talks by exchanging documents," Baik Tae-hyun, ministry spokesman at the ministry, told a press briefing.

   The move comes as North Korean leader Kim Jong-un expressed willingness to send a delegation to the Olympics to be held in the South next month and said the country is open to inter-Korean talks over the matter. The South proposed Tuesday for a high-level meeting in response.

   The agreement came as the South and the United States agreed late Thursday to delay their joint military drills during the Winter Olympics.

   North Korea has long denounced the military drills as a war rehearsal and used them as an excuse for its provocations. But the South and the U.S. said that the exercises are defensive in nature.

   Next week's talks will be the first inter-Korean dialogue since December 2015.

   North Korea sent a document to the South under the name of Ri Son-gwon, the head of the North's state agency in charge of inter-Korean affairs. The receiver is South Korean Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon, the ministry said.

   After a nine-year rule of two conservative governments, liberal President Moon, who favors engagement with Pyongyang, took office in May last year. But the North's nuclear and missile threats have prompted him to maintain the dual track of seeking sanctions and dialogue.

   Seoul hopes that better inter-Korean relations can help pave the way for the resolution of North Korea's nuclear issue and broader talks between the U.S. and North Korea.

   Some experts said that the North's overture to South Korea may be aimed at weakening the united front in enforcing sanctions on Pyongyang and driving a wedge in the decadeslong alliance between Seoul and Washington.


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