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Pyongyang agrees to Jan. 9 talks with Seoul

ReutersSEOUL (Reuters) — North and South Korea will hold official talks next week for the first time in more than two years after Pyongyang accepted Seoul’s offer for dialogue, just hours after the United States and South Korea delayed a joint military exercise.

South Korea’s Unification Ministry said North Korea had sent its consent for the talks to be held on Jan. 9 in a statement. The last time the two Koreas engaged in official talks was in December 2015.

The talks will be held at the border truce village of Panmunjom and officials from both sides are expected to discuss the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics and the improvement of inter-Korean relations, ministry spokesman Baik Tae Hyun told a regular briefing.

North Korea asked for further negotiations regarding the meeting to be carried out via documented exchanges, Baik said. The officials to represent the two Koreas have yet to be confirmed.

The spokesman added there was no change to South Korea’s stance that efforts aimed at the denuclearization of North Korea should be continued, while Seoul would engage Pyongyang as it keeps close communications with the United States and allies.

North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un opened the way for talks with South Korea in a New Year’s Day speech in which he called for reduced tensions on the Korean Peninsula and flagged North Korea’s possible participation in the Winter Olympics.

But Kim remained steadfast on the issue of nuclear weapons, saying North Korea would mass produce nuclear missiles for operational deployment and again warned he would launch a nuclear strike if his country was threatened.

U.S. President Donald Trump had called the proposed inter-Korean talks a “good thing” and that he would send a high-level delegation, including members of his family, to the Winter Olympics, according to South Korea’s presidential office.

In a tweet, Trump, who hurled fresh insults at the North Korean leader this week, took credit for any dialogue.

“Does anybody really believe that talks and dialogue would be going on between North and South Korea right now if I wasn’t firm, strong and willing to commit our total ‘might’ against the North,” Trump tweeted.

The ramped-up momentum for inter-Korean dialogue follows a year of missile and nuclear tests by North Korea as well as an exchange of bellicose comments from Trump and Kim, which raised alarm across the world.

Earlier this week, Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations said Washington was hearing reports that Pyongyang might be preparing to fire another missile.

South Korea’s defense ministry said Thursday they had yet to see any evidence of an imminent missile launch but there was always a chance North Korea could test missiles at any time.

Analysts with the website 38 North, which tracks North Korea, reported Pyongyang may be preparing to test a rocket engine at a facility in Sohae, North Pyongan Province, where all of North Korea’s satellite launches have taken place since 2012.Speech

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