Seoul, March 24: As a diplomatic thaw on the peninsula gathers pace, North Korea agreed to hold high-level talks with Seoul next week to discuss logistics for a rare inter-Korean summit, the South's Unification Ministry said.
The two sides will each send a three-member delegation to the border truce village of Panmunjom on Thursday for talks aimed at paving the way for a summit due in late April, it said. South Korea on Wednesday had proposed holding high-level talks with the North to discuss details including the summit's dates and agenda.
The talks will take place at the Unification Pavilion building on the northern side of Panmunjom, which sits on the border, with Seoul's delegation led by Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon and his counterpart Ri Son Gwon heading Pyongyang's. The decision by President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to meet came amid a rapid rapprochement kicked off with the recent Winter Olympics in the South.
The United States and South Korea announced Tuesday that their annual joint military drills would go ahead next month, but the main exercise will be shortened by a month.
The exercises have caused tensions for years, with Pyongyang condemning them as preparations for an invasion of the North. The inter-Korean summit is due to be followed by a face-to-face meeting between US President Donald Trump and Kim by the end of May.
Following a period of heightened tensions stoked by the North's nuclear and missile tests last year, a rapid rapprochement has been underway on the Korean peninsula.
The North on Wednesday broke its silence on the diplomatic thaw with Washington and Seoul, with its official KCNA news agency saying Pyongyang was driving the peace initiative and rejecting suggestions that sanctions forced it to dialogue table.
As diplomats scurry to arrange the North-South talks as well as the proposed Trump-Kim meeting, the North's silence has raised concerns over its intentions. North Korean state media have not yet directly mentioned the summits.
Analysts say the North is carefully watching to see how events -- including the US-South Korea military drills -- play out before making them public to its people. State media in the North have not reported any public activities by Kim since March 6, when they said he held talks with South Korean envoys and made a "satisfactory agreement" on the proposed inter-Korean summit.
Yesterday, Rodong Sinmun, the official daily of the North's ruling Workers Party, attacked the US for continued sanctions and pressure on Pyongyang despite diplomatic progress.
"The good atmosphere appearing on the Korean peninsula has been created by our aggressive efforts and initiatives. It has not been brought about by sanctions by the US and its sycophants," the newspaper said "The United States has miscalculated. The stronger the US pressure, the stronger the DPRK (North Korea)... If the US fails to draw a lesson and continues acting recklessly, it would surely be in for a greater humiliation and defeat."
The commentary came as President Trump named John Bolton, a foreign policy hawk, as his new national security adviser. Bolton, a former US ambassador to the United Nations, has championed pre-emptive strikes against North Korea and regime change in Iran -- making him an outlier even among Republicans.