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N. Korea should break out of isolation with Olympics

Posted January. 10, 2018 08:44,   

Updated January. 10, 2018 09:22

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At a high-level meeting held at the truce village of Panmunjom on Tuesday, North Korea proposed dispatching a high-level delegation, National Olympic Committee delegation, athletes, a cheering squad, an art troupe, observers, a taekwondo demonstration team and a press corps to the PyeongChang Winter Olympics. In response to the North’s conciliatory proposal of an unexpected scale, the South side proposed the reunion of families separated by the Korean War to take place during the Lunar New Year holidays in February and holding inter-Korean Red Cross talks to discuss this, as well as having inter-Korean military talks designed to reduce animosities in frontline areas.

If Seoul accepts Pyongyang’s proposal, made only a month ahead of the opening of the Olympics, the largest delegation of the North will be visiting the Pyeongchang region. While North Korea has sent athletes and cheering squads to international sports events held in South Korea several times, this would be the first time it sends art performers, a visitors’ group, and a taekwondo demonstration team along with athletes. Moreover, this year’s Lunar New Year holiday falls on Feb. 16, overlapping the period of the Olympics that starts on Feb. 9. Should the two sides agree on holding the reunion of separated families, another significant event will take place at Mount Kumgang resort.

Still, the North’s intention behind its peace overture should not be overlooked. U.S. Vice President Mike Pence said in an interview last Saturday that the inter-Korean discussion would be about the Olympics and that the United States will not ease its maximum pressure stance on North Korea unless it gives up its nuclear and ballistic missile programs. In the meantime, Pyongyang has been stressing national reconciliation and unity through its propaganda website. Under the current circumstances, we should not forget North Korea’s real intention to drive a wedge between the United States and South Korea. An improvement in the inter-Korea relations is not an issue of only the two Koreas. South Korea cannot afford to let its desire for improved ties to disrupt coordination with the international community.

North Korea should also assure the international community that its latest gesture is not intended to buy time for the completion of ICBM technology. If Pyongyang continues to stick to its demands such as the suspension of South Korea-U.S. joint military drills and the deployment of U.S. strategic assets, it would prove that the North’s recent attitude is nothing more than fake gesture towards peace. The North should take the PyeongChang Winter Olympics as an opportunity to break away from international isolation, a last opportunity to resume U.S.-North Korea dialogue and thereby settle lasting peace on the Korean Peninsula through denuclearization.