(WASHINGTON) — North Korea re-opened the inter-Korean communication line on Wednesday afternoon to discuss sending a delegation to next month’s Winter Olympics in South Korea, the isolated regime announced.
The head of North Korea’s agency handling inter-Korean affairs, Ri Son-gwon, appeared on their central television news earlier Wednesday to say he was announcing North Korea’s stance on behalf of leader Kim Jong Un.
“By upholding a decision by the leadership, we will make close contact with South Korea in a sincere and faithful manner,” Ri said. “We will discuss working-level issues over our potential dispatch of the delegation.”
The communication line was re-opened in the shared border village of Panmunjom at 3 p.m local time (1 a.m. ET). Officials made preliminary contact between the two countries in a 20-minute conversation, ABC News confirmed.
Ri called sending an Olympic delegation and the opening of inter-Korean talks a “meaningful start for improving North-South relations in the current situation.”
No inter-Korea discussions have been held through the communication channel at the border town since January 2016, when North Korea conducted its fourth nuclear test.
South Korea on Tuesday offered to hold high-level discussions with their northern neighbor over sending a delegation to the 2018 Winter Olympics beginning in February. The 2018 Olympics are being held in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
Kim first proposed the idea of sending a team to the Olympics in a wide-ranging Jan. 1 speech.
South Korea’s unification minister, Cho Myoung-gyon, proposed Tuesday in a televised speech that the two Koreas meet in Pyeongchang on Jan. 9. Ri did not make it clear whether that meeting will happen.
The International Olympic Committee said on Tuesday it was willing to continue discussions about North Korea sending a delegation to the games. North Korea sent 31 athletes to the last Olympics, Rio’s 2016 Summer Games. North Korea won seven medals, its highest total ever, including two golds.
The overture by North Korea was seen as a way of driving a wedge between the U.S. and South Korea.
Kim and President Donald Trump continued their war of words on Tuesday, with Trump responding to Kim’s declaration of a completed nuclear arsenal, saying, “Will someone from his depleted and food starved regime please inform him that I too have a Nuclear Button, but it is a much bigger & more powerful one than his, and my Button works!”
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., tweeted on Monday — in the wake of Kim’s New Year’s address — that he was “confident” the South Koreans would not meet with the North Koreans over going to the Olympics, and said the U.S. should boycott the Olympics if they did meet.
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