South Korea’s Moon wants more talks to resolve North nuclear issue

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — South Korea’s president said Wednesday he’s open to meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un if certain conditions are met, as he vowed to push for more talks with the North to resolve the nuclear standoff.

President Moon Jae-in spoke of a potential summit a day after the two Koreas held their first high-level meeting in about two years and agreed to cooperate in next month’s Winter Olympics in South Korea. They agreed North Korea will send a delegation of officials, athletes and others to the Feb. 9-25 Games and they plan talks later on reducing tensions along their border.

“I keep myself open to any meeting including the summit (with North Korea) if it’s helpful for an improvement of South-North relations or a settlement of the North Korean nuclear issue,” Moon told reporters in a televised news conference. “But to have the summit, some conditions must be established. I think a certain level of success must be guaranteed.”

Moon described the North’s Olympic participation as “very desirable,” saying he will push for more talks and cooperation with the North.

Tuesday’s accord was reached after Kim Jong Un made an abrupt push for improved ties with South Korea following a year of escalating tensions with the outside world over his expanding nuclear and missile programs. Critics say Kim may be trying to divide Seoul and Washington in a bid to weaken international pressure and sanctions on the North.

U.S. State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert welcomed the inter-Korean meeting which she said was “aimed at ensuring a safe, secure and successful” Olympics. The U.S. said it was consulting with South Korean officials to ensure that North Korea’s participation in the Games does not violate U.N. sanctions.

North Korea’s participation in the Winter Olympics won’t affect U.S. participation in the Games, White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said, adding that the decision presents North Korea with an opportunity to see the value of ending its isolation from the rest of the world.

In his New Year’s Day address, Kim said he was willing to send a delegation to the Pyeongchang Games. Moon welcomed Kim’s outreach and proposed the talks at Panmunjom, a proposal North Korea quickly accepted.

Chief North Korean delegate Ri Son Gwon read what he called a joint statement after Tuesday’s talks, under which the two Koreas agreed to “actively cooperate” in the Olympics to “enhance the prestige of the Korean people.” He said the two countries will hold follow-up working-level talks on their Olympic cooperation.

North Korea is not a winter sports power, and two of its figure skaters, Ryom Tae Ok and Kim Ju Sik, earlier became the only North Korean athletes to qualify before the North missed a confirmation deadline. The International Olympic Committee said Monday it has “kept the door open” for North Korea to take part.

North Korea also agreed to restore a military hotline communication channel with South Korea, according to chief South Korean delegate Cho Myoung-gyon.

The restoration of the hotline was the second such move in a week. All major inter-Korean communication channels had been shut down over the North’s nuclear program in recent years. But North Korea reopened one channel last week as signs emerged of improving ties.

Cho said South Korea also called for talks at an early date to discuss denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula to promote peace. He said the two Koreas would continue high-level talks but didn’t give a date for the next meeting.

The countries have a long history of failing to follow through with rapprochement accords. In 2015, negotiators met for nearly 40 hours before announcing a deal to pull back from a military standoff caused by land mine blasts that maimed two South Korean soldiers. But animosities flared again several months later after the North’s fourth nuclear test.