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Deal on Olympics will do little to disarm North Korea

Published : Jan 11, 2018, 1:50 am IST
Updated : Jan 11, 2018, 1:50 am IST

The meeting came after months of confrontation over North Korea’s nuclear and missile tests, with both parties seeking to dial down tensions.

Kim Jong-Un (Photo: AP)
 Kim Jong-Un (Photo: AP)

Seoul: An agreement for North Korea to send athletes to the Winter Olympics in the South signals a step change in relations, analysts say, but will do little to curb Pyongyang’s nuclear capabilities.

The North and South on Tuesday held their first official dialogue in more than two years, agreeing that Pyongyang would send a large delegation to next month’s Winter Olympics and promising further high-level talks.

The meeting came after months of confrontation over North Korea’s nuclear and missile tests, with both parties seeking to dial down tensions.

“Both sides wanted to win and they got it,” said John Delury, a professor at Seoul’s Yonsei University.

Seoul and Olympic organisers have been keen for Pyongyang — which boycotted the 1988 Summer Games in South Korea’s capital — to take part in what they have repeatedly proclaimed as a “peace Olympics” in Pyeongchang.

But the North gave no sign it would do so until leader Kim Jong-Un’s New Year speech. It pursued its banned weapons programmes in defiance of United Nations sanctions, launched missiles it says are capable of reaching the US, and staged its sixth and most powerful nuclear test.

North Korea’s participation in the Pyeongchang Games is a tacit guarantee that it will refrain from such provocations during February and March, when the Olympics and Paralympics are held.

Seoul and Washington also agreed earlier to delay their annual joint military drills until after the events.

Go Myong-Hyun, an analyst at the Seoul-based Asan Institute of Policy Studies, said North Korea secured so-called “strategic composure” — shelter from a possible US military strike which has repeatedly been described as an “option on the table” by Trump administration officials.

Despite a handful of agreements reached Tuesday, North Korea made no promises on its nuclear and missile programmes and its chief delegate lashed out when the issue was raised.

Ri Son-Gwon told South Korean journalists that denuclearisation was not an issue for the two Koreas to discuss, saying: “The target of all our nuclear and hydrogen bombs and ICBMs and all other sophisticated weapons is the US.”

There were “many problems” to settle between the two sides, he added, warning of “unexpected obstacles” down the road.

Analysts say South Korea could find itself in a tight spot, sandwiched between its desire to improve ties with Pyongyang and to work with Washington to denuclearise the North.

The United States has continuously stressed that the talks should lead to efforts for the North’s complete and verifiable denuclearisation.   

Tags: winter olympics, kim jong-un