South Korea offers talks with North on Olympic cooperation

AP

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  • South Korean Unification Minster Cho Myoung-gyon speaks during a press conference at the government complex in Seoul, South Korea, Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2018. Cho on Tuesday offered high-level talks with rival North Korea meant to find ways to cooperate on the Winter Olympics set to begin in the South next month. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)

  • 1

    South Korean President Moon Jae-in speaks during a cabinet meeting at the presidential Blue House in Seoul, South Korea, Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2018. South Korea on Tuesday offered high-level talks with rival North Korea to find ways to cooperate on next month's Winter Olympics in the South. (Kim Ju-hyoung/Yonhap via AP)

  • 2

    South Korean President Moon Jae-in, right, speaks during a cabinet meeting at the presidential Blue House in Seoul, South Korea, Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2018. South Korea on Tuesday offered high-level talks with rival North Korea to find ways to cooperate on next month's Winter Olympics in the South. (Kim Ju-hyoung/Yonhap via AP)

  • 3

    South Korean Unification Minster Cho Myoung-gyon speaks during a press conference at the government complex in Seoul, South Korea, Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2018. Cho on Tuesday offered high-level talks with rival North Korea meant to find ways to cooperate on the Winter Olympics set to begin in the South next month. The banner showing the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympic slogan reads: "Passion. Connected." (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)

  • 4

    Children sit next to the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympic Games' official mascots, a white tiger Soohorang, for the Olympics, and black bear Bandabi, right, for Paralympics, near Seoul Plaza Ice Rink in Seoul, South Korea, Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2018. South Korea on Tuesday offered high-level talks with rival North Korea to find ways to cooperate on next month's Winter Olympics in the South. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)

  • 5

    Children pose in front of an electric board that shows the number of days left until the opening of 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympic Games as the official mascots, a white tiger "Soohorang" for the Olympic, left, and black bear "Bandabi" for the Paralympic, are displayed in Seoul, South Korea, Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2018. South Korea on Tuesday offered high-level talks with rival North Korea to find ways to cooperate on next month's Winter Olympics in the South. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)

  • 6

    In this Dec. 29, 2017, photo, a man walks by the official emblem of the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympic Winter Games, in downtown Seoul, South Korea. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said Monday the United States should be aware that his country's nuclear forces are now a reality, not a threat. But he also struck a conciliatory tone in his New Year's address, wishing success for the Winter Olympics set to begin in the South in February and suggesting the North may send a delegation to participate. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)

  • 7

    South Korean Unification Minster Cho Myoung-gyon speaks during a press conference at the government complex in Seoul, South Korea, Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2018. Cho on Tuesday offered high-level talks with rival North Korea meant to find ways to cooperate on the Winter Olympics set to begin in the South next month. The banner showing the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics slogan reads: "Passion. Connected." (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)

  • 8

    South Korean Unification Minster Cho Myoung-gyon leaves after a press conference at the government complex in Seoul, South Korea, Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2018. Cho on Tuesday offered high-level talks with rival North Korea meant to find ways to cooperate on the Winter Olympics set to begin in the South next month. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)

  • 9

    Visitors stand near the military wire fence at the Imjingak Pavilion in Paju, South Korea, Monday, Jan. 1, 2018. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said Monday the United States should be aware that his country's nuclear forces are now a reality, not a threat. But he also struck a conciliatory tone in his New Year's address, wishing success for the Winter Olympics set to begin in the South in February and suggesting the North may send a delegation to participate. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)

  • 10

    A sign to North Korea's capital Pyongyang, top, is seen at the Imjingak Pavilion in Paju, South Korea, Monday, Jan. 1, 2018. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said Monday the United States should be aware that his country's nuclear forces are now a reality, not a threat. But he also struck a conciliatory tone in his New Year's address, wishing success for the Winter Olympics set to begin in the South in February and suggesting the North may send a delegation to participate. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)

  • 11

    A visitor uses binoculars to see the North Korea side from the unification observatory in Paju, South Korea, Monday, Jan. 1, 2018. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said Monday the United States should be aware that his country's nuclear forces are now a reality, not a threat. But he also struck a conciliatory tone in his New Year's address, wishing success for the Winter Olympics set to begin in the South in February and suggesting the North may send a delegation to participate. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)

  • 12

    Visitors use binoculars to see the North Korea side from the unification observatory in Paju, South Korea, Monday, Jan. 1, 2018. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said Monday the United States should be aware that his country's nuclear forces are now a reality, not a threat. But he also struck a conciliatory tone in his New Year's address, wishing success for the Winter Olympics set to begin in the South in February and suggesting the North may send a delegation to participate. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)

  • 13

    In this image made from video released by KRT on Jan. 1, 2018, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un speaks in his annual address in undisclosed location, North Korea. North Korean leader Kim said Monday, Jan. 1, 2018, the United States should be aware that his country's nuclear forces are now a reality, not a threat. But he also struck a conciliatory tone in his New Year's address, wishing success for the Winter Olympics set to begin in the South in February and suggesting the North may send a delegation to participate. (KRT via AP Video)

  • 14

    South Koreans watch a TV news program showing North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's New Year's speech, at the Seoul Railway Station in Seoul, South Korea, Monday, Jan. 1, 2018. The letters read on top left, "Kim Jong Un delivers New Year's speech." Kim said Monday the United States should be aware that his country's nuclear forces are now a reality, not a threat. But he also struck a conciliatory tone in his New Year's address, wishing success for the Winter Olympics set to begin in the South in February and suggesting the North may send a delegation to participate. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)

  • South Korean Unification Minster Cho Myoung-gyon speaks during a press conference at the government complex in Seoul, South Korea, Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2018. Cho on Tuesday offered high-level talks with rival North Korea meant to find ways to cooperate on the Winter Olympics set to begin in the South next month. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)

  • 1

    South Korean President Moon Jae-in speaks during a cabinet meeting at the presidential Blue House in Seoul, South Korea, Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2018. South Korea on Tuesday offered high-level talks with rival North Korea to find ways to cooperate on next month's Winter Olympics in the South. (Kim Ju-hyoung/Yonhap via AP)

  • 2

    South Korean President Moon Jae-in, right, speaks during a cabinet meeting at the presidential Blue House in Seoul, South Korea, Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2018. South Korea on Tuesday offered high-level talks with rival North Korea to find ways to cooperate on next month's Winter Olympics in the South. (Kim Ju-hyoung/Yonhap via AP)

  • 3

    South Korean Unification Minster Cho Myoung-gyon speaks during a press conference at the government complex in Seoul, South Korea, Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2018. Cho on Tuesday offered high-level talks with rival North Korea meant to find ways to cooperate on the Winter Olympics set to begin in the South next month. The banner showing the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympic slogan reads: "Passion. Connected." (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)

  • 4

    Children sit next to the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympic Games' official mascots, a white tiger Soohorang, for the Olympics, and black bear Bandabi, right, for Paralympics, near Seoul Plaza Ice Rink in Seoul, South Korea, Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2018. South Korea on Tuesday offered high-level talks with rival North Korea to find ways to cooperate on next month's Winter Olympics in the South. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)

  • 5

    Children pose in front of an electric board that shows the number of days left until the opening of 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympic Games as the official mascots, a white tiger "Soohorang" for the Olympic, left, and black bear "Bandabi" for the Paralympic, are displayed in Seoul, South Korea, Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2018. South Korea on Tuesday offered high-level talks with rival North Korea to find ways to cooperate on next month's Winter Olympics in the South. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)

  • 6

    In this Dec. 29, 2017, photo, a man walks by the official emblem of the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympic Winter Games, in downtown Seoul, South Korea. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said Monday the United States should be aware that his country's nuclear forces are now a reality, not a threat. But he also struck a conciliatory tone in his New Year's address, wishing success for the Winter Olympics set to begin in the South in February and suggesting the North may send a delegation to participate. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)

  • 7

    South Korean Unification Minster Cho Myoung-gyon speaks during a press conference at the government complex in Seoul, South Korea, Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2018. Cho on Tuesday offered high-level talks with rival North Korea meant to find ways to cooperate on the Winter Olympics set to begin in the South next month. The banner showing the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics slogan reads: "Passion. Connected." (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)

  • 8

    South Korean Unification Minster Cho Myoung-gyon leaves after a press conference at the government complex in Seoul, South Korea, Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2018. Cho on Tuesday offered high-level talks with rival North Korea meant to find ways to cooperate on the Winter Olympics set to begin in the South next month. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)

  • 9

    Visitors stand near the military wire fence at the Imjingak Pavilion in Paju, South Korea, Monday, Jan. 1, 2018. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said Monday the United States should be aware that his country's nuclear forces are now a reality, not a threat. But he also struck a conciliatory tone in his New Year's address, wishing success for the Winter Olympics set to begin in the South in February and suggesting the North may send a delegation to participate. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)

  • 10

    A sign to North Korea's capital Pyongyang, top, is seen at the Imjingak Pavilion in Paju, South Korea, Monday, Jan. 1, 2018. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said Monday the United States should be aware that his country's nuclear forces are now a reality, not a threat. But he also struck a conciliatory tone in his New Year's address, wishing success for the Winter Olympics set to begin in the South in February and suggesting the North may send a delegation to participate. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)

  • 11

    A visitor uses binoculars to see the North Korea side from the unification observatory in Paju, South Korea, Monday, Jan. 1, 2018. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said Monday the United States should be aware that his country's nuclear forces are now a reality, not a threat. But he also struck a conciliatory tone in his New Year's address, wishing success for the Winter Olympics set to begin in the South in February and suggesting the North may send a delegation to participate. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)

  • 12

    Visitors use binoculars to see the North Korea side from the unification observatory in Paju, South Korea, Monday, Jan. 1, 2018. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said Monday the United States should be aware that his country's nuclear forces are now a reality, not a threat. But he also struck a conciliatory tone in his New Year's address, wishing success for the Winter Olympics set to begin in the South in February and suggesting the North may send a delegation to participate. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)

  • 13

    In this image made from video released by KRT on Jan. 1, 2018, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un speaks in his annual address in undisclosed location, North Korea. North Korean leader Kim said Monday, Jan. 1, 2018, the United States should be aware that his country's nuclear forces are now a reality, not a threat. But he also struck a conciliatory tone in his New Year's address, wishing success for the Winter Olympics set to begin in the South in February and suggesting the North may send a delegation to participate. (KRT via AP Video)

  • 14

    South Koreans watch a TV news program showing North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's New Year's speech, at the Seoul Railway Station in Seoul, South Korea, Monday, Jan. 1, 2018. The letters read on top left, "Kim Jong Un delivers New Year's speech." Kim said Monday the United States should be aware that his country's nuclear forces are now a reality, not a threat. But he also struck a conciliatory tone in his New Year's address, wishing success for the Winter Olympics set to begin in the South in February and suggesting the North may send a delegation to participate. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) South Korea on Tuesday offered high-level talks with rival North Korea to find ways to cooperate on next month's Winter Olympics in the South. Seoul's quick proposal following a rare rapprochement overture from the North a day earlier offers the possibility of better ties after a year that saw a nuclear standoff increase fear of war on the Korean Peninsula.

In a closely watched New Year's address, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said Monday that he was willing to send a delegation to the Olympics, though he also repeated fiery nuclear threats against the United States. Analysts say Kim may be trying to drive a wedge between Seoul and its ally Washington in a bid to reduce international isolation and sanctions against North Korea.

Kim's overture was welcome news for a South Korean government led by liberal President Moon Jae-in, who favors dialogue to ease the North's nuclear threats and wants to use the Pyeongchang Olympics as a chance to improve inter-Korean ties.

Moon's unification minister, Cho Myoung-gyon, proposed in a nationally televised news conference that the two Koreas meet Jan. 9 at the shared border village of Panmunjom to discuss Olympic cooperation and how to improve overall ties.

Earlier Tuesday, Moon spoke of what he described as Kim's positive response to his earlier dialogue overtures and ordered officials to study how to restore talks with North Korea and get the North to participate in the Olympics.

The International Olympic Committee welcomed the overtures.

"The IOC welcomes the mutual intention of the governments of the Republic of Korea and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea to start direct talks about the participation of athletes from DPRK in the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018."

The IOC said in a statement it is continuing discussions with North Korea and its invitation to North Korea to take part in the games would remain open.

North Korea did not immediately react. But if there are talks, they would be the first formal dialogue between the Koreas since December 2015. Relations between the Koreas have plunged as North Korea has expanded its weapons programs amid a hard-line stance by Moon's conservative predecessors.

Last year, North Korea conducted its sixth and most powerful nuclear test and test-launched three intercontinental ballistic missiles as part of its push to possess a nuclear missile capable of reaching anywhere in the United States. The North was subsequently hit with toughened U.N. sanctions, and Kim and President Donald Trump exchanged warlike rhetoric and crude personal insults against each other.

Kim said in his speech Monday that North Korea last year achieved the historic feat of "completing" its nuclear forces. Outside experts say that it's only a matter of time before the North acquires the ability to hurl nuclear weapons at the mainland U.S., but that the country still has a few technologies to master, such as a warhead's ability to survive atmospheric re-entry.

Talks could provide a temporary thaw in strained inter-Korean ties, but conservative critics worry that they may only earn the North time to perfect its nuclear weapons. After the Olympics, inter-Korean ties could become frosty again because the North has made it clear it has no intention of accepting international calls for nuclear disarmament and instead wants to bolster its weapons arsenal in the face of what it considers increasing U.S. threats.

"Kim Jong Un's strategy remains the same. He's developing nukes while trying to weaken international pressure and the South Korea-U.S. military alliance and get international sanctions lifted," said Shin Beomchul of the Seoul-based Korea National Diplomatic Academy.

He said the North might also be using its potential participation in the Pyeongchang Olympics as a chance to show its nuclear program is not intended to pose a threat to regional peace.

In his address Monday, Kim said the United States should be aware that his country's nuclear forces are now a reality, not a threat. He said he has a "nuclear button" on his office desk, warning that "the whole territory of the U.S. is within the range of our nuclear strike."

He called for improved ties and a relaxation of military tensions with South Korea, saying the Winter Olympics could showcase the status of the Korean nation. But Kim also repeated that South Korea must stop annual military exercises with the United States, which he calls an invasion rehearsal against the North.

About 28,500 American troops are stationed in South Korea to help deter potential aggression from the North, a legacy of the 1950-53 Korean War, which ended with an armistice, not a peace treaty.

             

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