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Why North Korea decided to play nice

Why North Korea decided to play nice
From Al Jazeera - January 10, 2018

Seoul, South Korea - If a newly struck deal holds, the upcoming Winter Olympics in South Korea will have some special, unexpected guests; a delegation of athletes, officials, performers and supporters from North Korea.

In a surprising bit of rapprochement, officials from South and North Korea held a set of meetings on Tuesday where they reached an agreement for North Korea to attend the Winter Olympics next month in Pyeongchang, a county in the mountains of northeast South Korea.

The deal comes on the heels of months of tensions, as North Korea has conducted a series of tests that indicate significant advancement toward its ability to strike anywhere in the United States with a nuclear weapon.

Until recently, North Korea had appeared to be in a combative mood, and the last time North Korea made major headlines in South Korea was last month when a young soldier defected across the same border area where Tuesdays meetings were held, fleeing a hail of gunfire from comrades trying to take him down as he fled.

Also, early this month, the leaders of North Korea and the US, South Korea's main ally, traded harsh words, with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un mentioning in his New Years speech the nuclear button he says is on his desk, prompting US President Donald Trump to say on Twitter that he has one of those too, and his is bigger.

But in that same speech, Kim planted the seeds for Tuesday's meeting by floating the idea of sending a delegation to Pyeongchang.

The South Korean government, led by left-leaning President Moon Jae-in, jumped at the chance to improve long dormant ties between the two sides, and suggested meeting.

And that gathering seemed to go swimmingly. The two sides started the day all smiles and kind words, with the head of North Koreas delegation saying his side planned to give South Korea "invaluable results as the first present of the year".

The two sides had not held formal meetings in more than two years, and North Korea boycotted the only other Olympics ever held in South Korea, in 1988.

Why has North Korea suddenly decided to play nice?

North Korea's weapons programmes are expensive, and the country may have determined that better relations with South Korea could provide a needed boost to its economy.

"Based on Kim Jong-un's New Year's Day speech, it appears that North Korea may be ready to turn greater attention towards its economy. International sanctions have likely prevented the North Koreans from expanding its economy.

Talks with South Korea and participation in the Olympics may provide a potential opening to bring some sanctions relief for North Korea," said Andrew Yeo, an associate professor of politics at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.

Also on Tuesday, the two sides agreed to hold talks based on calming military tensions, raising the possibility that this could be the beginning of a phase of greater interchange.

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