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North and South Korea to hold talks January 9 for the first time in two years
 
A girl looks at a barbed-wire fence decorated with ribbons bearing messages wishing for the unification between the two Koreas near the demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas in Paju, South Korea. Photo: Reuters
 
North and South Korea will hold official talks next week for the first time in more than two years after Pyongyang accepted Seoul’s offer for dialogue, just hours after the United States and South Korea delayed a joint military exercise.
 
South Korea’s unification ministry said North Korea had sent its consent for the talks to be held on Jan. 9 in a statement. The last time the two Koreas engaged in official talks was in December 2015.
 
The talks will be held at the border truce village of Panmunjom and officials from both sides are expected to discuss the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics and the improvement of inter-Korean relations, ministry spokesman Baik Tae-hyun told a regular briefing.
 
North Korea asked for further negotiations regarding the meeting to be carried out via documented exchanges, Baik said. The officials to represent the two Koreas have yet to be confirmed.
 
Baik also said there was no change to South Korea’s stance that efforts aimed at the denuclearization of North Korea should be continued, while Seoul would engage Pyongyang as it keeps close communications with the United States and allies.
 
North and South Korea also reopened a hotline between the two countries Wednesday and have since called one another three times in 24 hours, signaling a potential for greater communication between the neighbors.
 
"We have been calling North Korea twice a day at 9:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. but North Korea has not been responding since we had the last contact in February 2016. Nonetheless, we have been calling them every day Monday through Friday," a spokeswoman for the Unification Ministry told CNN on Tuesday.
 
"We have been calling North Korea twice a day at 9:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. but North Korea has not been responding since we had the last contact in February 2016. Nonetheless, we have been calling them every day Monday through Friday," a spokeswoman for the Unification Ministry told CNN on Tuesday.
 
North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un opened the way for talks with South Korea in a New Year’s Day speech in which he called for reduced tensions on the Korean peninsula and flagged the North’s possible participation in the Winter Olympics.
 
But Kim remained steadfast on the issue of nuclear weapons, saying the North would mass produce nuclear missiles for operational deployment and again warned he would launch a nuclear strike if his country was threatened.
 
U.S. President Donald Trump and his South Korean counterpart Moon Jae-in announced late on Thursday that annual large-scale military drills usually held in spring would now take place after the Winter Olympics scheduled for February in Pyeongchang.
 
The Key Resolve and Foal Eagle exercises are drills conducted regularly to maintain readiness on the peninsula, according to a statement from the U.S. Forces Korea, which added new dates for the exercise would be announced later.
 
North Korea has considered U.S. military activity in the region a major provocation and a reason it would not abandon its nuclear and ballistic missile program. 
 
South Korea and the United States are technically still at war with North Korea after the 1950-53 Korean conflict ended with a truce, not a peace treaty.
 
Trump had earlier called the proposed inter-Korean talks a “good thing” and that he would send a high-level delegation, including members of his family, to the Winter Olympics, according to South Korea’s presidential office.
 
The ramped-up momentum for inter-Korean dialogue follows a year of missile and nuclear tests by North Korea as well as an exchange of bellicose comments from Trump and Kim, which raised alarm across the world.
 
China reiterated its support for renewed dialogue between North and South on Wednesday, and expressed its hope the US and North Korea can find a way of easing their nuclear rhetoric going forward.
 
"China welcomes and supports both the DPRK and South Korean sides taking the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics as an opportunity to make effective efforts to improve mutual relations," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said.
 
Ahead of the talk between North and South Korea, China's Vice Foreign Minister Kong Xuanyou will visit South Korea Friday and Saturday to "exchange views" with Lee Do-Hoon, Seoul's special representative for Korean peninsula peace and security affairs and chief representative for six-party talks of South Korea, to discuss the security situation on the Korean Peninsula. 
 
The six-party talks which also bring together the United States, Japan and Russia began in 2003 and aimed to find a peaceful resolution to the security concerns as a result of the North Korean nuclear weapons program after North Korea’s withdrawal from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. 
 
North Korea pledged to give up those programs in 2005, but carried out its first atomic blast the following year. It walked out of the talks three years later, detonating its second device soon afterwards. 

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