High-level talks between South Korea and North Korea began Jan. 9 at the border village of Panmunjom -- the first official talks between the two countries in two years.
North Korea announced that it would be participating in the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics in South Korea next month, with plans to send a huge delegation of not just athletes, but also cheerleaders and senior government officials. North Korea's participation in the games will require coordination between Seoul and Pyongyang, with numerous talks likely to take place in the month until the Olympics begin.
North Korea's official announcement of its participation in the Pyeongchang Olympics is worthy of praise, as it means that it is unlikely to carry out any military action during the games.
The recent chain of events began with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's New Year policy speech, in which he expressed interest in the North's participation in the Olympic Games that will be held in the South Korean county of Pyeongchang next month. It appears that Kim was reaching out to South Korea as a way to overcome North Korea's international isolation, which has deepened as a result of its nuclear and missile development programs.
The administration of South Korean President Moon Jae-in, meanwhile, harbors hopes that the bilateral talks will bring progress to its relationship with North Korea, which had been stuck in a stalemate.
During talks, South Korea suggested a reunion of families separated by the 1950-1953 Korean War during the Lunar New Year holiday, which takes place during the Pyeongchang Olympics. It also proposed Red Cross talks and military talks.
However, dialogue between the two Koreas has always proven tricky. South Korean President Moon has shown an eagerness to turn the talks into a stepping stone toward a breakthrough in the North Korean nuclear and missile development issue. But if South Korea rushes for resolutions to long-standing problems, it may end up playing into the hands of North Korea.
The current situation surrounding North Korea is not so simple that talks between the North and South can resolve all aspects of the situation. Awareness of this fact is crucial.
North Korea called on South Korea to cancel joint military drills with the United States, while appealing for national reconciliation. Pyongyang may attempt to argue in a similar manner in future dialogue with Seoul, but the Olympic Games and military drills should not be used as bargaining tools.
North Korea's ultimate objective is to sit at the negotiating table with the U.S. regarding nuclear weapons. U.S. President Donald Trump has hailed the North-South dialogue and said he is open to talking with the North Korean leader. While it remains unclear whether Trump's remark is a shared position within the Trump administration, it has likely piqued great interest among North Korean officials.
If this is indeed the case, beefed up U.S.-South Korea cooperation will strengthen South Korea's negotiating power with the North. What is being sought from Moon now is close cooperation with Japan and the U.S., and the building of a strategy that will transform North Korea's willingness to talk into a breakthrough in the current crisis.