Despite the naysaying of US hawks more interested in war than in a negotiated peace, representatives from North and South Korea met today at the border village of Panmunjom. With surprising ease, they hammered out an agreement that will allow the North to participate fully in next month’s Olympic Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
The surprise talks were led by Cho Myoung-gyon, the minister of unification for the Moon Jae-in government in Seoul, and Ri Son-gwon, chairman of North Korea’s “Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Fatherland.”
During the discussions, which were beamed live on closed-circuit television to state officials in both Seoul and Pyongyang, Ri agreed to send what he called a “high-level delegation” to the Games, which will last from February 9 to 25. It will be the North’s first participation in the Olympics in eight years.
The delegation will include athletes, a cheering squad, an art troupe, a Taekwondo demonstration team, and a group of reporters, South Korea’s Vice Unification Minister Chun Hae-sung told reporters. The North also “proposed resolving issues regarding inter-Korean ties through dialogue and negotiations for peace and unity on the peninsula,” he said.
The South, in turn, proposed that the two Koreas march together for the Games’ opening and closing ceremonies (it will be the basis for the next discussion) and that they resume reunions of families divided by the Korean War (also undecided). The talks were “a New Year’s gift to the entire nation,” North Korea’s Ri said.
The meeting, one of the most highly anticipated events of 2018, was the first bilateral discussion between the two sides of the Korean Peninsula since December 2015. It also marked the first direct contact between Kim Jong-un’s government and Moon, a progressive human-rights lawyer who was elected president of South Korea last May.
The talks fulfilled promises Moon made during that presidential campaign, when he ran on a platform to restore bilateral diplomacy with North Korea as a way to de-escalate the conflict over its nuclear-weapons program. But his initial calls for bilateral military and Red Cross talks was rebuffed by Pyongyang, which considers him too close to Washington.