South Korean President Moon Jae-in welcomed Kim Jong Un’s speech and called for swift measures to help North Korea participate in the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics during a Cabinet meeting in Seoul on Tuesday.
The North Korean leader struck an unusually conciliatory note in his annual New Year’s Day address Monday, declaring his wish “for a peaceful resolution with our southern border.”
In the televised address, Kim called for peace on the Korean peninsula and said North Korean representatives should start talks with their South Korean counterparts “as soon as possible” to discuss sending a delegation to the 2018 Winter Games, to be hosted in South Korea next month.
Moon, who has long advocated for closer relations with the North, described Kim’s remarks “as a response to our proposal to turn the Pyeongchang Olympic Games into an epoch-making opportunity to improve inter-Korean relations and establish peace.
“Moon said he would ask the Unification Ministry — the government department responsible for inter-Korean relations — and the Ministry of Culture and Sports “to quickly come up with follow-up measures for the speedy restoration of South-North Korean dialogue and realize the North Korean delegation’s participation in the Pyeongchang Olympics.”
The 2018 Winter Olympics, which are scheduled to begin on February 9, have been championed by Moon as an opportunity to open dialogue with Kim and help ease tensions on the Korean peninsula. In an interview with CNN in November, the South Korean president described the games as an opportunity for inter-Korean peace and reconciliation, and expressed his hope that North Korea would participate.
The games are due to take place 30 years after Seoul hosted the 1988 Summer Olympics, a turbulent era in which a number of nations — including North Korea — decided to boycott the games.
To date, only two North Korean athletes had qualified for the games, figure skaters Ryom Tae Ok and Kim Ju Sik, however, the country’s National Olympic Committee did not meet an October 30 deadline to accept their spot. There has been talk of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) granting an additional quota, something previously proposed by Choi Moon-soon, governor of the Gangwon province that will host the Winter Games.
On Tuesday, South Korean Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon proposed high-level government talks with North Korea on January 9 at the border village of Panmunjom in the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ).
“The government proposes the North to hold high level inter-Korean government talks at the Peace House of Panmunjom in consideration that the Winter Olympics is about a month away and to discuss related matters such as the participation of North Korea’s delegation in the PyongChang Olympics,” Cho said during a press briefing in Seoul on Tuesday.
He also reaffirmed that the South Korean government is willing to have a dialogue with North Korea and is “open to suggestions for the timing, venue and format.”