Ivanka Trump and North Korean General Kim Yong Chol standing in the same box at the Winter Olympics closing ceremony. Now reports coming out of Pyongyang are saying North Korea is open to talking with the United States. Buzz60


The Winter Games concluded this month with a measly 23 medals for the U.S. team, the fewest since 1998. But dramatic news developed on the diplomatic front: North Korea sent athletes, a cheering squad and a high-level delegation, raising hopes the nuclear standoff between the United States and North Korea might be resolved. 

Here are answers to the key questions raised by the flurry of diplomatic activity at the Winter Games.

Did South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s effort to use the Olympics as a peace gesture work?

Sort of. Moon convinced North Korea to participate in the Olympics, an important agreement that ensured the North wouldn’t attempt to disrupt the Games. It also helped cool temperatures between the United States and North Korea.

Vice President Mike Pence and Ivanka Trump did not speak with North Korean representatives at the Games, but Kim Jong Un and President Trump haven't traded insults lately either.

Moon’s gambit represented diplomatic progress even if it hasn’t led to a major breakthrough. “North Korea has shown it is open to actively engaging the United States in talks and the United States is talking about the importance of dialogue,” he said.

More: North Korea invite is dramatic gesture, but not diplomatic breakthrough

More: Kim Jong Un invites South Korean president for talks in the North

How has the United States reacted?

Cautiously. The U.S. position hasn't changed, even if the rhetoric has cooled. The United States has consistently said it will talk with North Korea only if conditions are met beforehand.

Washington has insisted that the subject of North Korea’s nuclear program must be open for discussion and it wants to see unspecified gestures, such as a suspension of missile tests, before holding those talks.

“They want to talk,” Trump said. “We want to talk also, only under the right conditions. Otherwise we’re not talking.”

How has North Korea reacted?

Also cautiously. Kim invited Moon to Pyongyang for talks. But key to any breakthrough is participation from the United States. North Korea has indicated it is open for talks with the United States, but they haven't met the conditions required by Washington.

“They haven’t left much opening for concessions,” Patrick Cronin, an analyst at the Center for a New American Security, said. “The same could be said for the United States.”

What’s the next step?

Difficult to predict. Moon is urging both parties to make concessions in an effort to seize the opportunity before it is lost. Moon said the United States should lower its “threshold” for talks, but the United States has expressed no interest in doing so. For its part, North Korea wants to hang on to its nuclear arsenal because Kim is convinced it assures his regime’s survival.

Something to watch for: The Pentagon suspended planned military exercises with South Korea during the Olympics, but will likely resume them after the Paralympics conclude next month. North Korea opposes the exercises.

Is there a way out of this mess?

It’s possible that sanctions over time will place enough pressure on the elites in North Korea that they push for changes in the regime.

“It’s going to have to be a process,” Cronin said. No single event is likely to lead to a diplomatic breakthrough. “We may just have to be living with containment and deterrence and work toward rolling back the nuclear program when there’s opportunities to do so in the future,” he said.

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