North Korea accepts offer from South to meet for talks ahead of the Winter Olympics

North and South Korea agreed on Friday to hold border talks next week amid signs of the first major thaw in relations between the two nations in two years.

The agreement to hold negotiations on Tuesday at the border village of Panmunjon was announced just hours after Washington and Seoul agreed to postpone joint military exercises until after the Winter Olympics in the South Korea resort of Pyeongchang in February.

The initial meeting will focus on the North’s possible participation in the Olympics, but it is hoped that talks can be expanded to deescalate tensions that have been building over Pyongyang’s accelerating nuclear and weapons programme.

The first sign of a shift in the frozen ties between the neighbouring countries came in a New Year’s Day speech by North Korean leader Kim Jong-un where he made overtures towards easing relations through dialogue and by sending an Olympic delegation.

This prompted a swift offer from the South to open talks next week and a flurry of diplomatic interactions, including the opening of a telephone hotline in Panmunjon after it had lain dormant for almost two years.

It is believed that it was through this hotline that North Korea told the South that it would agree to meet at the border village, which is divided by a military demarcation line, and is the only place in the Demilitarised Zone where soldiers from both sides stand just feet from each other.

South Koreans watch a TV news program showing North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s New Year’s speech, at the Seoul Railway Station Credit:  AP

It is not yet clear who will be attending. However, Presidential spokesman, Baik Tae-hyun, said the two sides would initially discuss details about the Olympics, including the composition of delegates, by exchanging documents.

Possible agenda items could include the delegation’s travel routes, financial costs, and whether the two Koreas, who are still technically at war, would march together under a unified flag at the opening and closing ceremonies.

Kim Jong-un said this week that sending a delegation to the Games would be a “good opportunity to show unity of the people,” while his counterpart in the South, President Moon Jae-in, called it a “groundbreaking chance” to improve relations.

Mr Moon spoke on Thursday with US President Donald Trump, who earlier this week claimed credit for signs of improving relations.

Despite the opening of communication lines with Pyongyang, the two presidents agreed to continue the…

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