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North Korea Opens Door to US Talks     02/25 10:42

   A North Korean envoy making a rare visit to South Korea said Sunday that his 
country was willing to open talks with the United States, a rare step toward 
diplomacy between enemies after a year of North Korean missile and nuclear 
tests and direct threats of war from both Pyongyang and Washington.

   PYEONGCHANG, South Korea (AP) -- A North Korean envoy making a rare visit to 
South Korea said Sunday that his country was willing to open talks with the 
United States, a rare step toward diplomacy between enemies after a year of 
North Korean missile and nuclear tests and direct threats of war from both 
Pyongyang and Washington.

   Kim Yong Chol, who Seoul believes masterminded two attacks in 2010 that 
killed 50 South Koreans, was in South Korea for the end of the Olympics. He 
said North Korean leader Kim Jong Un wanted to improve ties with Washington and 
had "ample intentions of holding talks" with its rival, according to the 
South's presidential office.

   He made the remarks during a meeting with South Korean President Moon 
Jae-in, who is eager to engage the North after one of the most hostile periods 
in recent years on the Korean Peninsula.

   Moon, who was invited a day after the opening ceremonies to Pyongyang for a 
summit with Kim Jong Un, also said that Washington and Pyongyang should quickly 
meet to "fundamentally solve" the standoff on the Korean Peninsula.

   Kim later sat in the VIP box at Olympic Stadium in Pyeongchang for the 
Olympic closing ceremonies, just feet away from Donald Trump's daughter, 
Ivanka, and the top U.S. military commander on the peninsula, Gen. Vincent 
Brooks. The former anti-Seoul military intelligence chief watched K-pop divas 
and fireworks and stood for the South Korean national anthem.

   Even the faintest possibility of diplomacy will be welcomed by many. But 
there will also be widespread skepticism among conservatives in Seoul and 
Washington, with many wondering if the North is simply looking for economic 
relief after a series of increasingly tough international sanctions slapped on 
Pyongyang for its illicit weapons programs or more time to develop those 
weapons.

   Moon has yet to accept the North's invitation for a summit, but he has 
advocated engagement with Pyongyang his entire political career and likely 
wants to go.

   But he must first strike a balance with Washington, which has a policy meant 
to isolate and sanction the North until it agrees to give up its nukes. Some 
observers believe that Pyongyang is trying to drive a wedge to win concessions 
from Seoul.

   There was no immediate comment from the United States, where it was dawn 
when the statement was released.

   Kim Yong Chol was head of the North's military intelligence when the 2010 
attacks on South Korea took place and is currently a vice chairman of the 
ruling party's central committee tasked with inter-Korea relations.

   With decades of experience, he is one of the most powerful people in the 
North's ruling regime. Seoul decided to temporarily take him off of a blacklist 
to allow the visit.

   South Korea is hoping to ease tensions by allowing the North to participate 
in the games and send senior delegations.

   Kim Jong Un's sister, Kim Yo Jong, attended the opening ceremony in an 
historic first --- no member of the ruling Kim family had ever traveled to the 
South before. She invited President Moon Jae-in to a summit with her brother in 
Pyongyang. The delegation to the closing ceremony was expected to follow up on 
that invitation while in South Korea.

   The delegation's arrival was met by protesters calling for Kim's arrest for 
his alleged role in the 2010 attacks --- the sinking of the warship Cheonan 
that killed 46 South Korean sailors and an artillery strike on a South Korean 
island that killed four people.

   Outside Olympic Stadium, just before the ceremony, more than 200 
anti-Pyongyang protesters waved South Korean and U.S. flags, banged drums and 
held signs saying "Killer Kim Yong Chol go to hell." They denounced the South 
Korean government's decision to allow the visit.

   "How can a murderer who killed 46 sailors on the Cheonan warship can be 
invited, protected and defended? This is the state of what the Republic of 
Korea has become," one protester shouted into a mic, referring to South Korea's 
formal name

   The protesters also hung a sign that read: "We are against Pyongyang 
Olympics: fallen into the propaganda of the terrorist Kim Jong Un's brutal 
regime."

   There were no major clashes.

   At the opening ceremony earlier this month, Kim Yo Jong sat in the same VIP 
box with Moon and U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, creating some awkward 
moments. Though Pence stood to cheer the entrance of the U.S. team, he remained 
seated when the athletes from North and South Korea marched together behind a 
"unification" flag, leaving Moon to instinctively turn around and shake Kim's 
sister's hand.

   Pence's office claimed afterward that the North had pulled out of a planned 
meeting at the last minute.

   The North's state-run news agency ran a story Sunday quoting a "spokesman 
for the Korea Asia-Pacific Peace Committee" as saying that Pence insulted Kim's 
sister with his hard-line rhetoric after returning to the U.S. and "we will 
never have face-to-face talks with them even after 100 years or 200 years."


(KA)

 
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