North, South Korea agree to resolve issues through dialogue

This article is more than 12 months old

South also considering lifting sanctions to facilitate North's participation in Winter Olympics

SEOUL North and South Korea yesterday agreed on negotiations to resolve problems and military talks aimed at averting accidental conflict after their first official dialogue in more than two years, as Pyongyang's nuclear weapons programme fuels tension.

In a joint statement after the 11-hour talks, the North pledged to send a large delegation to next month's Pyeongchang Winter Olympics in the South, but made a "strong complaint" after Seoul proposed talks to denuclearise the Korean peninsula.

South Korea asked its neighbour to halt hostile acts that stoke tension on the peninsula. In return, the North agreed that peace should be guaranteed in the region, the South's Unification Ministry said separately.

The talks had been closely watched by world leaders keen for any sign of a reduction in tension.

Earlier yesterday, Seoul said it was prepared to lift some sanctions temporarily so North Korean officials could visit the South for the Games.

South Korea has unilaterally banned several North Korean officials from entry in response to Pyongyang's ramped-up missile and nuclear tests.

But some South Korean officials have said they see the Olympics as a possible opportunity for easing tension.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Roh Kyu Deok said Seoul would consider whether it needed to take "prior steps", together with the United Nations Security Council and other relevant countries, to help the North Koreans' visit for the Olympics.

Working talks will be held soon to work out the details of bringing the North Koreans to the Olympics, the statement said, with the exact schedule to be decided.

At yesterday's talks - the first since December 2015 - Seoul also proposed a reunion of family members in time for next month's Chinese New Year holiday, but the joint statement made no mention of the reunion.

Meanwhile, the North has finished technical work to restore a military hotline with South Korea, Seoul said, with normal communications set to resume today.

The North cut communications in February 2016, following the South's decision to shut down a jointly run industrial park in the North.