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North, South Korea break ice; US says talks off table till denuclearisation

North Korea also agreed to send a large delegation to next month's Winter Olympics in South Korea


North Korea, South Korea, Winter Olympics
Head of North Korean delegation Ri Son Gwon (centre) is greeted by South Korean officials at Panmunjom in the Demilitarised Zone in Paju, South Korea on Tuesday

North and held their first talks in over two years on Tuesday, which Washington welcomed as a first step to solving the North Korean weapons crisis, even though Pyongyang said those were aimed only at the United States and not up for discussion. The said Washington would be interested in joining future talks, but stuck to its insistence that they must be aimed at denuclearisation, showing that a diplomatic breakthrough remains far off. In a joint statement after 11 hours of talks, North and said they had agreed to hold military-to-military talks and that would send a large delegation to next month’s in However, made a “strong complaint” after Seoul proposed talks to denuclearise the Korean peninsula. “Clearly this is a positive development,” a spokesman for the US State Department, Steve Goldstein, said of the joint statement, while adding: “We would like talks to occur; we want of the Korean peninsula. This is a good first step in that process.” North and said they agreed to meet again to resolve problems and avert accidental conflict, amid high tension over North Korea’s programme to develop missiles capable of hitting the United States. “All our weapons, including atomic bombs, hydrogen bombs and ballistic missiles, are only aimed at the United States, not our brethren, nor China and Russia,” Pyongyang’s chief negotiator, Ri Son Gwon, said. “This is not a matter between North and South Korea, and to bring up this issue would cause negative consequences and risks turning all of today’s good achievement into nothing,” Ri said in closing remarks. The White House and State Department did not respond to requests for comment on the United States being the only potential target of North Korea’s weapons. U. S. President and North Korean leader have exchanged threats and insults in the past year, raising fears of a new war on the peninsula. The United States, which has 28,500 troops stationed in as a legacy of the 1950-1953 Korean War, initially responded coolly to the idea of inter-Korean meetings, but later called them “a good thing” and said he would be willing to speak to Kim. “At the appropriate time, we’ll get involved,” said on Saturday, although U. S.-North Korean talks appear unlikely any time soon, given entrenched positions on both sides. The United States has warned that all options, including military ones, are on the table in dealing with Washington agreed with Seoul last week to postpone joint military exercises that Pyongyang denounces as rehearsals for invasion until after the Olympics, but the North-South thaw has not altered the U. S. intelligence assessment of North Korea’s weapons programs. The consensus, according to U. S. officials familiar with the classified analysis, is that Kim remains convinced the United States is determined to overthrow him and that only a arsenal that threatens America can deter that. One official said the North-South talks were likely to follow the pattern of past diplomatic efforts, in which the North has benefited from additional food and other aid without making any concessions on the weapons front. The additional danger now, said a second official, was that Kim would seek to use the talks to take advantage of Trump’s sometimes bellicose rhetoric to try to drive a wedge between Washington and Seoul. U.

N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres welcomed the talks, particularly the agreement to hold military-to-military talks, calling this “critical to lowering the risk of miscalculation”. He also welcomed North Korea’s decision to send a delegation to the Olympics and said he hoped for the resumption of dialogue leading to In spite of the North Korean negotiator’s remarks, South Korea’s Unification Ministry said it believed Tuesday’s talks could lead to discussion of a “fundamental resolution” of the issue. “We will closely coordinate with the United States, China, Japan and other neighbours in this process,” it said, adding that Seoul had asked Pyongyang to halt acts that stoke tension. Tuesday’s meeting followed a year of ramped-up North Korean missile test launches, some of them over Japanese territory, and its sixth and most powerful test, which prompted a US-led campaign to toughen U. N. sanctions. The U. S. State Department said later in the day that it had approved the sale of anti-ballistic missiles to Japan to defend itself. ‘HIGH HOPES’ Earlier on Tuesday, Seoul said it was prepared to lift some unilateral sanctions temporarily so North Koreans could visit for the Olympics. said its delegation would include athletes, high-ranking officials, a cheering squad, art performers, reporters and spectators. Talks to work out details would be held soon, the South’s Unification Ministry said. Tuesday’s talks were the first between the two Koreas since 2015 and were held at the Peace House on the South Korean side of Panmunjom truce village. Seoul said it proposed reunions of divided families in time for February’s Lunar New Year holiday, but the joint statement made no mention of any agreement on this. Seoul said had finished technical work to restore a military hotline, with normal communications set to resume on Wednesday. cut communications in February 2016, following South Korea’s decision to shut down a jointly run industrial park. Seoul also said responded “positively” to the South’s proposal for athletes from both sides to march together in the Olympic opening ceremony. Such a joint parade has not happened since the 2007 Asian Winter Games in China. China’s Foreign Ministry said it was happy to see talks between North and and welcomed all positive steps. Russia echoed the sentiment. “This is exactly the kind of dialogue that we said was necessary,” a Kremlin spokesman said. Some US-based analysts have hailed the talks as an opening for diplomacy, but others see an attempt by to weaken U. S. pressure so that it is eventually accepted as a nuclear-armed state. Evans Revere, a former senior U. S. diplomat for East Asia, said that by engaging Seoul, was clearly seeking to weaken the US-South Korean alliance and it was important that Seoul had raised the issue to show it was not just a US-matter.

First Published: Wed, January 10 2018. 08:13 IST