In a New Year’s Day speech, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un offered to send a delegation to the Olympic Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea, and engage its southern neighbor in direct talks regarding its participation in the Olympics.
“I am willing to send a delegation and take necessary measures, and I believe that the authorities of the North and South can urgently meet to discuss the matter,” Kim said, according to The New York Times.
Those talks would be the first to occur under South Korean president Moon Jae-in who reportedly pressed the North to join the Olympics as a way to ease tension between the two nations over the North’s nuclear program.
Despite North Korea’s saber-rattling rhetoric towards South Korea’s ally, the United States, Kim’s Monday speech indicated he wanted to subside military tensions between the two nations. “Above all, we must ease the acute military tensions between the North and the South,” Kim said.
“The North and the South should no longer do anything that would aggravate the situation, and must exert efforts to ease military tensions and create a peaceful environment.”
That came in stark contrast to the regime’s response to a joint U.S.-South Korean military exercise, which the regime implied made war inevitable. While it’s unclear why the North decided to facilitate direct talks, it may have felt pressure from a fresh round of United Nations Security Council sanctions approved at the end of last month.
The sanctions would allegedly strike a $200 million blow to the North’s export sector, in addition to the sanctions already placed on 90 percent of its exports.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson previously said he received anecdotal evidence that the many sanctions on North Korea appeared to effectively pressure the regime. In December, he seemed to offer direct talks with North Korea if it ceased its nuclear program for a sustained period of time.
But the U.S. and North Korea likely face a tough road ahead as they grapple with threats from leaders in both countries. While President Donald Trump has threatened mass retaliation against a North Korean strike, Kim warned on Monday that his intercontinental missiles could reach the U.S. mainland.