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(2nd LD) U.S. welcomes inter-Korean meeting on Olympics

All News 04:24 January 10, 2018

(ATTN: UPDATES with State Department statement in paras 1-3, 6-9; CHANGES headline; ADDS photo)

WASHINGTON, Jan. 9 (Yonhap) -- The United States on Tuesday welcomed inter-Korean talks that led to North Korea's agreement to participate in the Winter Olympics and hold military talks with the South on easing tensions.

But the U.S. also stressed it will continue its maximum pressure campaign to ensure the North takes the path to abandoning its nuclear weapons.

"The United States welcomes the January 9 meeting between the Republic of Korea and North Korea aimed at ensuring a safe, secure, and successful Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang," Heather Nauert, spokeswoman for the State Department, said in a statement.

This photo, taken by the Joint Press Corps on Jan. 9, 2018, shows negotiators from South Korea (R) and North Korea after high-level talks at the border truce village of Panmunjom. (Yonhap)

Earlier in the day, the two Koreas met at the border truce village of Panmunjom to mainly discuss the North's participation in the Winter Games slated for Feb. 9-25 in the South's alpine town of PyeongChang. The high-level dialogue -- the first since December 2015 -- was proposed by Seoul after North Korean leader Kim Jong-un expressed a willingness to engage in talks and send a team to the Olympics in his New Year's speech.

Widely hailed as a breakthrough, the meeting also produced an agreement to hold military talks on reducing tensions. North Korea informed the South that it has restored a military communication channel in the west.

There is speculation that the North's high-level delegation to the Olympics could include Choe Ryong-hae, the regime's de facto No. 2 official, who is under South Korean unilateral sanctions for his apparent role in the country's nuclear and missile provocations.

Seoul's foreign ministry said the government may temporarily ease the sanctions if necessary to enable North Korean officials to attend the Games.

"The United States remains in close consultations with ROK officials, who will ensure North Korean participation in the Winter Olympics does not violate the sanctions imposed by the U.N. Security Council over North Korea's unlawful nuclear and ballistic missile programs," Nauert said.

She noted that South Korean President Moon Jae-in and U.S. President Donald Trump agreed in a phone call last week to "continue the campaign of maximum pressure on North Korea toward the goal of complete and verifiable denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula."

In separate remarks sent to Yonhap, a spokesperson for the White House National Security Council said, "North Korean participation is an opportunity for the regime to see the value of ending its international isolation by denuclearizing."

Reuters reported that Trump plans to announce the U.S. delegation to the Olympics soon.


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