CARTOON: Kim and Moon Dance on Thin Ice

CARTOON: Kim and Moon Dance on Thin Ice

What you need to know

Talks between North and South Korea are a fragile first step towards de-escalating conflict on the peninsula.

South Korea accepted the olive branch extended by the North Korean regime this week, following up on Kim Jong-un’s New Year speech and its suggestion that his country might participate in the Winter Olympics.

Seoul responded with an almost instantaneous offer of dialogue, culminating in the first meeting of the two sides in two years on Jan. 9 at the border village of Panmunjom. The talks were also the first direct contact between the governments of Kim Jong-un and his South Korean counterpart Moon Jae-in.

The two sides swiftly came to agreement allowing full North Korean participation at the Games, which begin Feb. 9. The North’s delegation will feature the figure skating pair Ryom Tae-ok and Kim Ju-sik, as well as officials, a cheer squad and a Taekwondo demonstration team.

The talks left undecided proposals by the South that included the resumption of reunions for families split by the Korean War, and an idea that the two countries march together during the Games’ opening and closing ceremonies.

The apparent rapprochement comes after President Moon campaigned on a platform to re-establish bilateral diplomacy and simmer down tensions around the North’s testing of increasingly sophisticated nuclear bombs and delivery platforms.

In the U.S., reaction to the breakthrough has been muted. The talks took place against a backdrop of increasingly strict U.S.-led sanctions and bellicose rhetoric directed against the North, framed by the Dec. 22 UN Security Council sanctions and a barrage of aggressive tweets from President Trump.

The U.S. has suggested it remains committed to the idea of resuming dialogue with the North, provided they address denuclearization and follow a sustained period of missile-free activity.

Senior Policy Advisor to the Secretary of State Brian Hook said in a telephone briefing to reporters this week that “President Moon has said the improvement of relations between North and South Korea cannot advance separately from resolving North Korea's nuclear program, and so we remain focused on our global pressure campaign. That campaign is designed to bring Kim to the table for meaningful negotiations.”

Editor: David Green