North Korean officials made initial contact on Wednesday with counterparts in South Korea on holding talks aimed at attending the Winter Olympics next month.
North Korea called a hotline between the two countries at 3:30 p.m. in Seoul, the first time the communication channel has been used in about two years. President Moon Jae-in’s government has proposed holding talks on Jan. 9 at the border village of Panmunjom, which would be the first formal gathering between the two sides since 2015.
The move shows further progress after North Korean leader Kim Jong Un called for improved relations with South Korea in a New Year’s Day address. Tensions over North Korea’s nuclear program had threatened to hang over next month’s Games in Pyeongchang, a city about 50 miles (80 kilometers) from the border dividing the Korean Peninsula.
The detente between the two Koreas comes even as US President Donald Trump continues a war of words with Kim, who warned on Monday that the nuclear button is “always on my desk.” Trump responded on Tuesday night, saying on Twitter that he had “a much bigger & more powerful one than his, and my Button works!”
North Korea’s Call for Talks Tests US-South Korea Alliance
Trump has expressed skepticism about Kim’s call for talks, with an administration official saying North Korea is aiming to drive a wedge in the US-South Korean alliance. The US wants to avoid anything that might undermine its pressure campaign of sanctions and military threats to halt Kim’s nuclear program.
Moon’s government has said it’s consulting on the talks with the US, which has about 30,000 troops in South Korea and provides a nuclear deterrent. A Trump administration official said that the US is in close touch with South Korea on a unified response to North Korea.