The first talks in two years between the two countries on the Korean peninsula paid immediate dividends. Diplomats report that the summit meeting in Panmunjom has produced a commitment from North Korea to send athletes, government officials, and even cheerleaders to the Pyeongchang Olympics next month. In return, South Korea will ease some sanctions temporarily.
In other words, it looks like a good start — or restart, to be more accurate:
The first direct talks between North and South Korea in more than two years appear to be paying off. Diplomats from both sides announced that North Korea will send athletes to the Winter Olympics in South Korea next month https://t.co/U2I1REadEm pic.twitter.com/oIiyQFEh2Z
— CBS News (@CBSNews) January 9, 2018
North Korea said during rare talks with the South on Tuesday it would send a delegation to the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics in South Korea next month and Seoul said it was prepared to lift some sanctions temporarily so the visit could take place.
At the first formal talks with South Korea in more than two years, North Korean officials said their delegation to the Games would consist of athletes, high-ranking officials and a cheering squad.
Oh, and North Korea pledged not to send a nuke. Just kidding! They shrugged at South Korea’s attempt to raise the nuclear issue during the talks:
“North Korea said that they are determined to make today’s talks fruitful, and make it a groundbreaking opportunity,” South Korea’s Chun said.
Chun also said the South Koreans proposed resuming negotiations over the North’s nuclear program, but there was no specific response from the North.
However, North Korean officials said during the meeting they were open to promoting reconciliation through dialogue and negotiation, according to Chun.
Besides, North Korea told its counterparts in Panmunjom, nuclear weapons aren’t an issue … for South Korea. Or Russia. Or China. They only have nuclear eyes for you-know-who:
JUST IN: North Korea’s weapons are only aimed at the U.S., not South Korea, Russia or China – North Korea official pic.twitter.com/iFc2YzkfwG
— Reuters Top News (@Reuters) January 9, 2018
As Winston Churchill once said, jaw-jaw is preferable to war-war, but let’s not get too excited about this development. The two Koreas have met at Panmunjom in the past and held talks; they have also coordinated on participation at the Olympics and other athletic events before now, too, although Reuters notes that it’s been over a decade since the last such cooperation.
The direct significance of this meeting is that it dials down the tensions for at least the period of time in which the Olympics take place, which should make it more comfortable for other nations to participate. North Korea’s presence makes it a lot less likely that they’ll provoke an armed conflict in the middle of the games, especially if it has government officials in attendance. Of course, given Kim Jong-un’s habits of disposing of government officials, perhaps we should rely more on the presence of the cheerleaders for short-term security.
Indirectly, the negotiations on the Olympics will be seen as a step toward greater cooperation on more pressing issues. Perhaps, and the decision to restore communication lines between the two militaries on the Korean Peninsula two years after Pyongyang severed them is certainly hopeful. But we’ve been down this road before too, and the Kim regime continued to develop missiles and nuclear weapons. Until the North Korean delegation starts talking seriously about denuclearization, it’s all just games.
So now that the North Koreans have agreed to come, will we? Last week, Lindsay Graham said the US would boycott if North Korea was included in the Olympics:
Allowing Kim Jong Un’s North Korea to participate in #WinterOlympics would give legitimacy to the most illegitimate regime on the planet.
I’m confident South Korea will reject this absurd overture and fully believe that if North Korea goes to the Winter Olympics, we do not.
— Lindsey Graham (@LindseyGrahamSC) January 1, 2018
A boycott would be a mistake for a number of reasons, the most pressing of which is that boycotts are displays of impotence. They don’t work, and all it does is make the boycotters look petulant. What would a US boycott accomplish, other than make us less relevant to both the games and the Korean Peninsula? Besides, the previous boycotts aimed at the host country’s participation, not participation by a visitor. Why would we boycott an Olympics hosted by a close ally? We’ve been to Beijing and Russia over the past decades for Olympics where North Korea participated, so telling South Korea to pound sand for inviting them would be exceedingly silly — and seen as such on the international stage, too.
There is always a lot of game-playing that surrounds the Olympics, but let’s allow most of it to happen within it.