North Korea is willing to hold talks with the US, South Korea says.
The announcement came after Gen Kim Yong-chol met South Korean President Moon Jae-in ahead of the closing ceremony of the Winter Olympics.
US President Donald Trump’s daughter Ivanka also attended the ceremony, but US officials have ruled out meeting the North Korean delegation.
The US says North Koreans pulled out of a meeting with Vice-President Mike Pence during the opening ceremony.
The Korean peninsula has been divided since the 1950-53 war and the two sides have never signed a peace treaty.
The rapprochement between the two Koreas has been seen as a move by the North to drive a wedge between the South and the US.
Experts have cautioned that the latest developments do not put an end to underlying regional tensions, particularly following last year’s nuclear and missile tests carried out by the North.
General ‘willing’ to talk
Gen Kim has been accused of orchestrating attacks on the Cheonan warship and Yeonpyeong Island in 2010, leading to the death of 46 South Korean sailors.
He arrived in the South with families of the victims and conservative MPs trying to block his entry.
But the South Korean government welcomed his visit.
According to Mr Moon’s office, he said North Korea was “very willing” to hold talks with the US.
It added that the North had “agreed that inter-Korea talks and North-US relations should improve together”.
Pyongyang has not yet commented. But it has often said it is willing to talk without any preconditions.
However, the US has insisted that concrete steps towards denuclearisation take place first.
The revelation from the South Korean presidency came hours after a furious statement from the North that described fresh sanctions announced by Washington as “an act of war”.
Pyongyang’s foreign ministry praised the way the two Koreas had co-operated together during the Olympics, but said the US had “brought the threat of war to the Korean peninsula with large-scale new sanctions” just as the Games were coming to a close.
US cool on North-South thaw
North and South Korea marched under one flag at the opening ceremony, and fielded a unified women’s ice hockey team.
- N Korea leader’s sister takes ‘real power’ south
The North sent Kim Jong-un’s sister, Kim Yo-jong, to attend the opening ceremony of the Games.
A meeting between Mr Pence and Mr Kim’s sister was cancelled inexplicably by the North Koreans, US officials have said. North Korea has made no comment on the US reports.
It would have been the first official interaction between North Korea and the Trump administration.
Last Friday, US President Donald Trump warned of serious consequences if the latest round of sanctions did not generate results.
“If the sanctions don’t work we’ll have to go phase two – and phase two may be a very rough thing, may be very, very unfortunate for the world,” he said.
He did not specify what “phase two” would entail.