As Koreas agree to talk, China ups pressure on the North

As Koreas agree to talk, China ups pressure on the North

North and South Korea yesterday agreed to hold their first talks in more than two years, hours after Seoul and Washington chose to defer joint military exercises, which always infuriate Pyongyang, until after next month's Winter Olympics.

US Secretary of Defense James Mattis told reporters Thursday that the drills were suspended to accommodate the Games, not as a condition of talks between Pyongyang and Seoul.

Worldwide sporting events have previously produced diplomatic openings between the two Koreas, only to lead nowhere.

North Korea accepted the South's offer to meet at the border village of Panmunjom on Tuesday to discuss Olympic cooperation and how to improve overall ties, South Korea's Unification Ministry said Friday.

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The developments have raised hopes that progress can be made toward broader negotiations with North Korea, although significant barriers remain.

North Korea has called South Korea three times within the 24 hours since leader Kim Jong Un ordered the reopening of the hotline between the two countries.

In his New Year's address, Mr Kim threatened he has a "nuclear button" on his office desk and warned that "the whole territory of the USA is within the range of our nuclear strike".

South Korean President Moon Jae-in said that "overly optimistic expectations" were "undesirable", but added: "We will do our best to make the Pyeongchang Olympics an Olympics for peace and settle the nuclear issue peacefully".

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A map of two Koreas showing North Korea's capital Pyongyang and South Korea's capital Seoul is placed at the Imjingak Pavilion in Paju, South Korea, Wednesday, Jan. 3, 2018.

"And I truly do believe that making it clear that all options are on the table; that, as the president has done, making it clear the United States of America has the capacity to defend our people far beyond anything North Korea could imagine; but also making it clear that if North Korea will abandon their nuclear and ballistic missile ambitions, if they will dismantle those programs, there's an opportunity for a peaceable solution", he said.

The annual war games, which tended to kick off in mid-March and last by the end of April, could coincide with the 2018 Winter Olympics scheduled to run from February 9 to February 25 and the Winter Paralympic Games from March 9 to March 18.

North Korea regularly threatens to destroy the United States and its two key Asia allies, Japan and South Korea, and says its weapons are necessary to counter USA aggression.

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