North and South Korea hold second talks in a week to discuss Winter Olympics

North and South Korea met on Monday to discuss the Winter Olympics for the second time in under a week, in a diplomatic thaw that has raised hopes of an eventual de-escalation of military tensions on the Korean Peninsula.

Officials from both sides gathered at the Panmunjom “truce village” which straddles their heavily fortified border to hammer out plans to host a North Korean entertainment troupe at the South’s Pyeongchang Games in February, and decide whether to field a joint women’s ice hockey team.

To date only two North Korean athletes, figure skaters Ryom Tae-ok and Kim Ju-sik, have qualified for the Games, but Pyongyang is expected to send a delegation of hundreds after a diplomatic breakthrough early this year.

The presence at the talks of Hyon Song-wol, lead singer of the Moranbong Band, fuelled speculation that the all-female group, known as North Korea’s answer to the Spice Girls, could appear at the sports event.

Seoul has made no secret of its hope that North Korea’s participation in the Games could mark a turning point in relations after a year of sabre-rattling and growing fears of war over Pyongyang’s ongoing nuclear and missiles programme.

The head of North Korean delegation Ri Son-Gwon (C) crosses a border line to attend a meeting at the Panmunjom truce village last weekCredit:

North Korea on Monday offered another olive branch to its neighbour, proposing a third round of high level talks on Wednesday, although the agenda was not immediately clear.

The negotiations, although the first in over two years, are still baby steps in the overall picture of military tensions between two countries who have technically been at war since the 1950s.

The new thaw appears to have done little to mute Pyongyang’s animosity towards the United States.

Speculation has risen that North Korea's all-female Moranbong Band may appear at the Games Credit:

The North has made clear that denuclearisation is not on the table, and it castigated South Korean President Moon Jae-in for thanking US President Donald Trump for helping to push both sides to negotiations.  

The US, despite agreeing to delay joint military exercises with Seoul until after the Olympics, is continuing to bolster its presence around the Korean Peninsula by deploying stealth bombers, at least one extra aircraft carrier and a new amphibious assault ship to the region.

North Korea accused it of trying to put a chill on the renewed talks.

“Such moves are an unpardonable military provocation chilling the atmosphere for improved inter-Korean relations,” Kim Jong-un’s party said in a commentary published over the weekend.

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