North Korea agreed on Tuesday to send its athletes to the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea next month, signaling a potential thaw in relations after a tension-filled 2017.
That was the most tangible result of high-level diplomatic talks that took place between the North and South at their shared border on Tuesday. It was the first time both sides had sat down for official negotiations in more than two years.
North Korea refused to discuss its nuclear and missile programs during the nearly 12-hour negotiations, but the two sides agreed to hold military talks to lower animosities at some point in the future.
Pyongyang will also send a delegation of government officials, fans, reporters, and even a taekwondo demonstration team to the games on February 9. “Senior officials from North and South Korea will be able to mingle naturally at the Winter Olympics alongside members of the international community and thereby provide an opportunity to discuss current affairs,” the South Korean government announced in a statement.
Both sides will continue talking about North Korea’s Olympic presence, including whether North Korean cheerleaders should cheer alongside their South Korean counterparts as a single unit or do so separately.
For most of last year, it looked like the United States and North Korea were careening toward a potentially catastrophic war, a conflict that would’ve also involved South Korea. The tensions rose higher when President Trump responded to North Korean Leader Kim Jong-Un that he “has a nuclear button ready at his desk” by saying that his nuclear button is “much bigger” and “more powerful”.
But these talks are a small yet promising sign that North Korea might try to avoid that outcome — even though that’s not a certainty at this point.