Pyongyang suggested Olympic talks in Dec.

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Pyongyang suggested Olympic talks in Dec.

Pyongyang initially told Seoul last month that it was interested in participating in the PyeongChang Winter Games, and the South Korean government was preparing for North Korea’s official announcement on the matter, according to several local government officials who spoke exclusively with the JoongAng Ilbo Monday.

According to a senior official in the ruling Democratic Party, a shift of tone from North Korea on Seoul’s repeated proposals to join the Olympics, set to kick off next month in South Korea’s northeast Gangwon province, was first detected in early December.

“The South Korean government and Democratic Party had been reaching out to the North through various routes,” said the source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “In early December, a high-level North Korean government official told us to meet in Vladivostok, saying he was planning to go there.”

Both Koreas began discussing who to send for the talks. But the Vladivostok meeting fell apart when the delegates’ schedules did not match. On the other hand, Seoul was concerned that the media might catch onto the behind-the-scenes meeting with Pyongyang, and if so, that it might send the wrong message to the rest of the world. According to the official, it was shortly after the meeting was called off, around late December, that North Korea informed the South it was thinking “positively” about the PyeongChang Olympics and that it was “interested in joining.”

Another Democratic Party official told the JoongAng Ilbo that Pyongyang’s message was immediately wired to the Blue House.

When South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in told American broadcaster NBC on Dec. 19 that Seoul suggested to Washington they delay their joint military drills until after the Olympics, it was a gesture to Pyongyang to send a delegation of athletes to the country, the second Democratic Party official continued.

Finally, on Jan. 1, Kim personally said in his New Year’s address that he was willing to send a delegation to the Winter Games, adding both Koreas could “urgently meet” for relevant discussions. Seoul quickly picked up the cue, and the two agreed to meet today at 10 a.m. near the border for the first high-level talks since December 2015.

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