As the Olympic Games in Pyeongchang that saw the two Koreas come together — if briefly — came to a close on Sunday, another potential sign of détente emerged; North Korea said it was willing to hold talks with the United States, according to South Korea's presidential Blue House.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in met with a delegation from the North shortly before the Games' closing ceremony. A Blue House statement said the North Koreans expressed willingness to engage in a dialogue with the U.S. and that Moon stressed that talks must open as soon as possible.
The message of rapprochement was a pivot in tone for the North Sunday. Earlier in the day, reports Reuters, a statement released on state media accused the United States of stoking war on the Korean peninsula with Friday's announcement of sanctions. President Trump called the measures targeting the country's shipping industry "the heaviest sanctions ever imposed."
Trump's message delivered at the Conservative Political Action Conference Friday was not centered on talks with Pyongyang. Instead, he said if sanctions don't work, "we'll have to go to phase 2," although he didn't spell out what phase 2 would be, he added, "Phase 2 may be a very rough thing — may be very, very unfortunate for the world."
Trump has said in the past that he is open to holding talks with the North, but the administration's prerequisite has been that Pyongyang admit willingness to abandon its stockpile of nuclear weapons.
According to a Feb. 13 New York Times report citing senior administration officials, the White House shifted its stance to one more open to holding preliminary talks with North Korea, following Vice President Pence's visit to the Games:
"For months, the White House has rejected the idea of meeting with North Korea unless it took measurable steps toward giving up its nuclear stockpile and curbing its provocative behavior. Now, though, with Mr. Moon determined to engage with the North, these officials said the administration has decided on a course correction."
South Korea's president said through a spokesman Sunday that the inter-Korean relationship must develop together with the one between the U.S. and the North.
The North Korean delegation was led by Kim Yong Chol, whom the South accuses of orchestrating a deadly attack on a South Korean warship in 2010, reports Reuters. His visit sparked outraged protests among some South Koreans.
Ivanka Trump, leading the U.S. delegation, attended the closing ceremony seated next to Moon's wife. But though she sat in front of Kim Yong Chol, she was not scheduled to meet with the North Korean delegation during the weekend trip.
The Blue House said the world has been moved by the joint Korean Olympic team as well as the two countries marching together.