STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Leaders of the U.S. and North Korea are talking - in their way. Kim Jong Un said in a speech that he has a nuclear button on his desk. Donald Trump replied he had a bigger button. Next week, however, North Korea begins a more intimate kind of dialogue. Diplomats meet with their counterparts from South Korea - high-level talks, we're told. NPR's Elise Hu is watching all this from Seoul. Hi, Elise.
ELISE HU, BYLINE: Hi there.
INSKEEP: What's it look like when these two sides meet?
HU: Well, they haven't met in two years, so that's what is significant about all of this. But it's likely to happen right on the border in what's known as the Peace Village in a conference center. It's a three-or-four-story building. It's pretty airy. And it was built specifically for inter-Korean talks, so it sits empty a lot. But inside the room itself, diplomats sit at a long table facing each other, two or three diplomats on each side.
INSKEEP: And they talk in a diplomatic way, not about nuclear buttons and so forth?
HU: They are not expected to talk about security issues but instead focus on North Korea sending a team or a delegation to the upcoming Winter Olympics, which South Korea is hosting.
INSKEEP: Well, how did they suddenly agree to have a discussion about anything amid this nuclear confrontation?
HU: Kim Jong Un made an overture on New Year's Day. He said he wished for a successful Olympics. And he extended an olive branch in that speech to restart dialogue. South Korea jumped right on it. And now they're going to do some real diplomacy.
INSKEEP: Oh, this is interesting because we primarily noticed that speech on New Year's Day for the remark about the nuclear button. But you're saying there was some peaceful language in there.
HU: Yeah. A lot of attention was focused on the nuclear button remark. But what was really important was actually this offer to restart dialogue. That was the meat. That was the change in the previously frozen ties. And that led to the place that we're at now.
INSKEEP: So President Trump, I know, took credit for these talks because he said he was talking tough. Is there anything to that?
HU: Well, talking tough - and then, also, there's a policy of sanctions, right? So this raises the question of whether the sanctions that are being placed on North Korea are effective. I asked David Kang, who heads the Korean Studies Institute at the University of Southern California, to weigh in on how to read this opening that we're at now.
DAVID KANG: I think the reality is that these moves by North Korea aren't aimed at all at ending the sanctions. They're aimed at lowering the tensions between both sides. And if they can do that, I think everybody is better off.
HU: So a lot of us are going to be watching to see what happens at the border on Tuesday, Steve.
INSKEEP: OK, Elise. Thanks very much.
HU: You bet.
INSKEEP: That's NPR's Elise Hu.
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