Advertisement

North and South Korea meeting for first time in years: Why it’s important and what to expect

Click to play video 'North Korea opens hotline to South over Pyeongchang games' North Korea opens hotline to South over Pyeongchang games
ABOVE: Experts say that North Korea and South Korea could march under a single flag and even compete as a single nation if Pyongyang sends a delegation to the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea next month – Jan 3, 2018

North Korea’s recent abrupt push to improve ties with South Korea wasn’t totally unexpected, as the country has a history of launching provocations and then pursuing dialogue with rivals Seoul and Washington in an attempt to win concessions.

Still, Tuesday’s planned talks between the Koreas, the first in about two years, have raised hopes of at least a temporary easing of tensions over North Korea’s recent nuclear and missile tests, which have ignited fears of a possible war.

READ MORE: Why the North Korea telephone hotline matters for diplomacy

A look at how the Korean talks were arranged and what to expect from them:

Kim Jong Un’s olive branch

In a New Year’s Day speech, North Korea’s young leader, Kim Jong Un, said he was willing to send a delegation to next month’s Winter Olympics in South Korea, while also announcing he has a “nuclear button” on his desk that could launch an atomic bomb at any location in the mainland United States.

Story continues below advertisement

WATCH: South Korea ‘welcomes’ North Korea’s idea to reopen hotline

Click to play video 'South Korea ‘welcomes’ North Korea’s idea to reopen hotline' South Korea ‘welcomes’ North Korea’s idea to reopen hotline
South Korea ‘welcomes’ North Korea’s idea to reopen hotline – Jan 3, 2018

Critics called Kim’s mixed message a gambit to drive a wedge between Seoul and Washington, weaken U.S.-led international pressure and buy time for North Korea to perfect its nuclear weapons. Sanctions imposed by the U.N. and individual nations were toughened after North Korea’s sixth and biggest nuclear test and three intercontinental ballistic missile launches last year.

Liberal South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who seeks rapprochement with North Korea, quickly responded to Kim’s outreach by offering talks at the border village of Panmunjom to discuss Olympic cooperation and overall ties. Kim accepted Moon’s proposal.

READ MORE: South Korea proposes to talk with North on Olympic participation

U.S. President Donald Trump on Saturday called the talks “a big start,” saying he hopes for some progress from the negotiations. He earlier responded to Kim’s New Year’s Day address by warning that he has a much bigger and more powerful “nuclear button.”

Story continues below advertisement

Olympic cooperation

South Korean officials say they will focus in the talks on Olympic cooperation before moving onto more difficult political and military issues.

Moon’s government wants North Korea to participate in the Feb. 9-25 games in Pyeongchang, South Korea, in hopes of reducing animosities between the rivals, which are separated by the world’s most heavily fortified border. South Korea may suggest that North and South Korean athletes parade together during the opening and closing ceremonies and field a joint women’s ice hockey team.

READ MORE: Kim Jong Un says he’s ‘open to dialogue’ with South Korea, won’t use nukes unless threatened

Athletes from the two Koreas took similar steps at international sporting events during an earlier era of inter-Korean detente. But such symbols of reduced animosity would receive widespread attention at Pyeongchang after a year of heightened nuclear tensions during which Kim and Trump traded threats of nuclear war and crude personal attacks.

WATCH: North, South Korea to resume diplomatic talks

Click to play video 'North, South Korea to resume diplomatic talks' North, South Korea to resume diplomatic talks
North, South Korea to resume diplomatic talks – Jan 5, 2018

But North Korea, which is weak in winter sports, currently has no athletes qualified to participate in the Pyeonghang Games. It needs to receive an additional quota to compete, and its International Olympic Committee representative, Chang Ung, headed to Switzerland over the weekend for talks with IOC officials, according to Japanese media.

Story continues below advertisement

South Korea is also expected to ask the IOC to allow North Korea to attend the games.

Obstacles

While it is possible that the two Koreas will agree on the North’s participation in the Olympics, they are likely to differ sharply over other issues relating to how to improve ties.

READ MORE: South Korea reportedly using loudspeakers to broadcast news of North Korean defector across border

Moon’s government wants to resume temporary reunions of families separated by war and work out measures to reduce threats in frontline areas. But North Korea could demand some rewards in exchange for those steps, such as the revival of stalled cooperation projects that are lucrative for the North or the suspensions of annual U.S.-South Korean military exercises that it calls a rehearsal for an invasion.

The drills’ suspension is something that South Korea cannot accept in consideration of its relations with the U.S., its main ally, which is seeking increased pressure and sanctions on the North.

WATCH: South Korea offers talks with Pyongyang ahead of Olympics

Click to play video 'South Korea offers talks with Pyongyang ahead of Olympics' South Korea offers talks with Pyongyang ahead of Olympics
South Korea offers talks with Pyongyang ahead of Olympics – Jan 2, 2018

The Trump administration has agreed to delay upcoming springtime drills with South Korea until after the Olympic Games. But Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has insisted the delay is a practical necessity to accommodate the Olympics, not a political gesture.

Story continues below advertisement

An agreement by South Korea to revive a jointly run industrial park or a tourism project could also draw criticism from abroad that it violates U.N. sanctions because they would result in South Korean money being sent to North Korea, critics say.

READ MORE: Donald Trump, world leaders willing to talk to North Korea about giving up nukes. That likely won’t happen

Analysts say tensions could flare again after the Olympics, with U.S. and South Korean troops carrying out their delayed drills, and North Korea likely responding with new weapons tests.

The North Korean delegation is headed by Ri Son Gwon, a hardliner who heads a government agency that handles relations with South Korea. Ri is known as a close associate of senior Workers’ Party official Kim Yong Chol, who Seoul officials believe was behind two attacks in 2010 that killed 50 South Koreans. South Korea is sending its top official on North Korea, Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon.