Talks between North and South Korea

When Moon Jae-in took office in May 2017 in South Korea he pledged engagement with North Korea, including an offer to hold inter-Korean military talks about ceasing hostile activities along the border. But he was snubbed.

However in his New Year message Kim Jong-Un said he was open to dialogue (as well as warning the United States he had his finger on a ‘nuclear button’.

RNZ:  Kim Jong-Un has ‘nuclear button’ on desk

North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un has warned the United States that he has a “nuclear button” on his desk ready for use if North Korea is threatened, but he has offered an olive branch to South Korea, saying he is “open to dialogue” with Seoul.

Rather than encouraging US measures that “threaten the security and peace of the Korean peninsula,” Seoul should instead respond to overtures from the North, Kim said.

“When it comes to North-South relations, we should lower the military tensions on the Korean Peninsula to create a peaceful environment. Both the North and the South should make efforts.”

Kim said he will consider sending a delegation to the Winter Olympics Games to be held in Pyeongchang, South Korea, in February.

“North Korea’s participation in the Winter Games will be a good opportunity to show unity of the people and we wish the Games will be a success. Officials from the two Koreas may urgently meet to discuss the possibility,” Kim said.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in has said North Korea’s participation will ensure safety of the Pyeongchang Olympics and proposed last month that Seoul and Washington postpone large military drills that the North denounces as a rehearsal for war until after the Games.

South Korea has responded positively. RNZ: South Korea sets date for high-level talks with North

South Korean Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon proposed on Tuesday that representatives could meet at Panmunjom, the so-called “truce village”.

“We hope that the South and North can sit face to face and discuss the participation of the North Korean delegation at the Pyeongchang Games as well as other issues of mutual interest for the improvement of inter-Korean ties,” said Mr Cho.

“I repeat, the government is open to talking with North Korea, regardless of time, location and form.”

South Korean President Moon Jae-in said earlier today that inter-Korean relations were linked to resolving the North’s nuclear program.

“The improvement of relations between North and South Korea cannot go separately with resolving North Korea’s nuclear program, so the foreign ministry should coordinate closely with allies and the international community regarding this,” he said in opening remarks at a cabinet meeting.

Analysts think that the offer for talks from North Korea may be an attempt to drive a wedge between South Korea and the US.

US-based experts saw Kim’s speech as a clear attempt to divide Seoul from its main ally, Washington, which has led an international campaign to pressure North Korea through sanctions to give up weapons programs aimed at developing nuclear missiles capable of hitting the United States.

“This speech pokes at the fissure that has lain below the surface in US-South Korean relations, and seems designed to drive a wedge there,” said Douglas Paal, a former senior US diplomat who heads the Asia program at Washington’s Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

“President Moon needs a successful Olympics and the US drive to increase pressure fits poorly with the Southern agenda.”

Daniel Russel, the top US diplomat for East Asia until last April and now at the Asia Society Policy Institute, said there was an argument to be made to encourage North Korea’s Olympic participation but that it should not be taken too far.

“It’s perfectly legitimate to dial down some of the signaling and the rhetoric … but not to load up their tray with concessions in advance. We should reward responsible behavior, but not try to bribe North Korea into behaving; that doesn’t work,” he said.

Nam Sung-wook, a North Korea expert at Korea University in Seoul said Mr Kim was likely to tone down his weapons testing – at least ahead of the Olympics.

“What North Korea is most afraid of is being forgotten in the international arena,” he said. “Without launching missiles and conducting a nuclear test, North Korea will be in the spotlight just by attending the Winter Olympics.”

Donald Trump has responded viw Twitter:

As is common Trump is factually wrong.

The last high-level talks took place in December 2015 in the Kaesong joint industrial zone.

They ended without any agreement and the meeting’s agenda was not made public.

Fear of military escalation, in particular of nuclear attack, whether intentional or not, will be strong incentive for both North and South Korea to work something out. China and Japan will also be very keen on de-escalation.