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S Korea offers Olympics talks with North

There are only two North Korean athletes who qualify for this year’s Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang

South Korea has offered high-level talks with North Korea on 9 January to discuss its possible participation in the 2018 Winter Olympic Games.

It comes after the North’s leader Kim Jong-un said he was considering sending a team to Pyeongchang in South Korea for the Games in February.

He said the two sides should “urgently meet to discuss the possibility”.

South Korea’s president said he saw the offer as a “groundbreaking chance” to improve relations.

At a cabinet meeting on Tuesday, President Moon Jae-in also said the North’s nuclear programme would be the backdrop of any sporting discussions.

“The improvement of relations between North and South Korea cannot go separately with resolving North Korea’s nuclear programme, so the foreign ministry should co-ordinate closely with allies and the international community regarding this,” said Mr Moon.

Where might they meet?

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

The village, in the heavily guarded demilitarised zone (DMZ) at the border, is where the Koreas have historically held talks.

“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.

It is not yet known who will be attending the proposed talks next week – if anyone, as North Korea has yet to respond.

President Moon said he wanted his ministers to act fast to ensure the North’s delegation attended.

When did they last meet?

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.

What has Kim Jong-un said?

North Korea’s leader took many people by surprise when he said he was “open to dialogue” with his neighbours in his New Year’s Day speech on Monday.

“The year 2018 is a significant year for both the North and the South, with the North marking the 70th anniversary of its birth and the South hosting the Winter Olympics.

“We should melt the frozen North-South relations, thus adorning this meaningful year as a year to be specially recorded in the history of the nation,” he said.

It came shortly after he made repeated threats against the US, saying nuclear button was “always on my table”.

North Korea has in the past two years quickly advanced its nuclear and convention weapons programme, despite increasing international sanctions.

Analysts said the slight move towards the South could be designed to enforce a break from Washington’s hardline approach, which encourages all countries to isolate North Korea.

Who might go to the Games?

The only two North Korean athletes who qualified for the Games are figure skaters Ryom Tae-Ok and Kim Ju-Sik.

Although the North has missed the official deadline to confirm their participation, the skaters could still compete via an invitation from the International Olympic Committee.

North Korea’s KCNA state media said on Tuesday that the country was “filled with firm determination to achieve fresh victory” in the Games.

The president of the Pyeongchang Games’ organising committee, Lee Hee-beom, had earlier told South Korea’s news agency Yonhap that he was delighted to hear of the North’s potential participation.

“It’s like a New Year’s gift,” he said.

North Korea has participated in the Olympics before, but not in South Korea. It boycotted the 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul.

Source: BBC

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