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North And South Korea Plan First Talks In Two Years

A South Korean government official checks the hotline to talk with the North Korean side at the border village of Panmunjom on January 3. South Korea says North Korea has agreed to meet at the village next week.

North and South Korea will formally meet for talks on Tuesday for the first time in two years. South Korea's Unification Ministry announced that the meeting will happen next week at the border village of Panmunjom, where the two sides will discuss North Korea's participation in the upcoming Winter Olympics, which South Korea is set to host.

"We welcome South Korea's response to our proposal for the North and the South's discussion of improving inter-Korean relationship, including our participation in the Pyeongchang Winter Olympic Games," the North Korean government said, in a statement released by the South.

Reviving dialogue is a sign of easing tensions at the start of this new year, following North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's announcement that he has a "nuclear button" on his desk that can fire weapons at the United States. He said this was "not a threat" but "reality." In the same speech, Kim also said he hoped for a successful Winter Olympics and made an outreach to Seoul that led to this restoration of formal talks.

The Unification Ministry says it's preparing for the high-level talks with meetings covering strategy, organization and even staging a mock meeting in advance. These discussions will mark the first interKorean dialogue since ongoing lower-level talks were suspended in early 2016 amid growing tensions over North Korea's consistent missile and nuclear tests.

Panmunjom is the border village within the Demilitarized Zone where on November 13, a North Korean soldier made a daring defection in which he was shot at least five times and rescued by US and South Korean forces. He's stable and recovering.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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