Seoul (Reuters): North and South Korea will hold official talks next week for the first time in more than two years after Pyongyang accepted Seoul’s offer for dialogue, just hours after the United States and South Korea delayed a joint military exercise.
The South’s unification ministry said North Korea had sent its consent for the talks to be held on Jan. 9 in a statement at 0116 GMT. The last time the two Koreas engaged in official talks was in December 2015.
The talks will be held at the border truce village of Panmunjom and officials from both sides are expected to discuss the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics and the improvement of inter-Korean relations, ministry spokesman Baik Tae-hyun told a regular briefing.
North Korea asked for further negotiations regarding the meeting to be carried out via documented exchanges, Baik said. The officials to represent the two Koreas have yet to be confirmed.
Japan’s defense minister on Friday sounded a note of caution about the talks, saying North Korea would continue developing its weapons program and Tokyo would remain vigilant.
“I think what is important is to maintain a firm defense posture,” Japanese Defence Minister Itsunori Onodera told a press conference in Tokyo.
“North Korea goes through phases of apparent dialogue and provocation but either way, North Korea is continuing its nuclear and missile development. We have no intention of weakening our warning and surveillance (activity).”
Baik also said there was no change to South Korea’s stance that efforts aimed at the denuclearization of North Korea should be continued, while Seoul would engage Pyongyang as it keeps close communications with the United States and allies.
North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un opened the way for talks with South Korea in a New Year’s Day speech in which he called for reduced tensions on the Korean peninsula and flagged the North’s possible participation in the Winter Olympics.
But Kim remained steadfast on the issue of nuclear weapons, saying the North would mass produce nuclear missiles for operational deployment and again warned he would launch a nuclear strike if his country was threatened.