North Korea and South Korea on Tuesday held their first official talks in more than two years. The negotiations took place in the demilitarized zone (DMZ) between the two countries.
The two sides agreed on the participation of North Korean athletes in the South Korean Olympics. They also discussed the potential reunification of families separated by the Korean War. In a significant breakthrough, the two Koreas agreed on talks between army officials - in order to avoid dangerous military incidents.
The latest talks follow months of escalation in rhetoric and saber-rattling between North Korea and the US.
American President Donald Trump claimed it was his aggressive attitude towards Pyongyang that made the diplomatic breakthrough possible.
“A lot of people have said and a lot of people have written that without my rhetoric and without my tough stance – and it’s not just a stance, I mean this is what has to be done – that they wouldn’t be talking about Olympics, they wouldn’t be talking right now,” he said.
The US government has welcomed the talks, but how does Washington feel about being sidelined?
Security analyst Charles Shoebridge says “again and again we’re seeing around the world situations where once the US and its foreign policy are put to one side, peaceful solutions can be found by the local players.”
“That seems to be what might be happening here,” he added, in his comment to RT.
He also noted that “we need to be careful about running away with optimism” after the talks.
“These are mainly talks about sports and about participation in the Olympics, and not much at the present time anyway beyond that. But it is a very encouraging step, as Donald Trump himself has acknowledged,” Shoebridge said.
As to whether President Trump has a right to take credit for the talks, the analyst admitted “it may well be the case, because after all we don’t know the mechanisms, the workings of decision-making in the North Korean government and all the individuals concerned.”
“Also we need to bring into the mix the attitude of South Korean government. On the one hand, they’ve taken a very hard-nosed stance. But recently and wisely it would now seem ... the South Korean government has in a way [made a] first step by agreeing to defer this very major military exercises ... which are a major irritant, if not indeed a major threat … to North Korea,” he said.
“Let’s not forget as well that almost certainly there have been backchannel talks going for some months behind the scenes, perhaps even involving the US, but it is now clear, and we should have expected that all along between the South and North Koreans. Looking at the issue about whether the US is being sidelined – again and again we’re seeing around the world situations where, and this is just one example – when the US and its foreign policy is put to one side, then peaceful solutions can be found by the local players. That seems to be what might be happening here.”
Jim Jatras, a former US diplomat, says now that Pyongyang and Seoul are talking, it leaves a lot less room for other countries including the US to complain about things.
RT: There were some key breakthroughs on upcoming military talks, Olympic attendance and family reunions. How significant is this for North and South Korea?
Jim Jatras: I think it is hugely significant, and maybe we will have a happy new year. I think this is very welcome news – that there is a constructive dialogue going on between the two Koreas, and I hope something comes of it…The political arrangements on the peninsula between the two countries are paramount here, and if they’re talking, that leaves a lot less room for other countries – notably the US – to complain about things.
RT: The US government welcomed the negotiations. But do you think Washington is happy about being sidelined?
JJ: President Trump is taking credit for this because of his hard rhetoric. Now, was there some element of choreography here that the more belligerent he sounded, the more it encourages some kind of side dialogue between the two Koreas? I suspect that at least in the President’s mind this is a welcome development – whether it is around some of the people who are advising him – that is the other story.
RT: The North Korean delegation made it clear it will not denuclearize, saying “our weapons are only aimed at the US, not our brethren, nor China and Russia.” Do you think Seoul will feel reassured by that?
JJ: I think maybe somewhat reassured, but not very much. Remember there are almost 30,000 Americans in South Korea, American forces, and no doubt they would still be target. There are many more Americans in Japan. And you notice, he didn’t say he wouldn’t target the Japanese – of whom the Koreans are not particularly fond. I do think it would be a huge mistake though for the US to say: “We will only talk if the object of the negotiation is denuclearization.” If the US wants go into that position – fine, but you cannot expect the other side to agree before talks take place on what the outcomes should be. Right now the object should be to extend what is now a kind of a mirror moratorium between our exercises with South Koreans and the North Korean tests. That is pretty much what the Russians and Chinese have been proposing, they are not calling it ‘double freeze,’ but maybe we can get to a ‘double freeze.’