US President Donald Trump is yet to formally respond to the announcement of formal talks, but took to Twitter to say the scheduled talks were "a good thing". "These talks will be limited to conversations about the Olympics and perhaps some other domestic matters. not beyond that", she told a regular press briefing.
Commercial satellite imagery from December 25 showed a rail-mounted environment shelter had been moved away from a test stand, indicating that an engine test may be in the near future, the website said, rather than a new rocket launch suspected in recent media reports.
Late Thursday, the South's president Moon Jae-In and his United States counterpart Donald Trump agreed to delay joint military drills - which always infuriate the North - until after the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang which begin on February 9.
This week began on a less diplomatic note, with Trump tweeting his latest strongly worded messages to the North Korean leader, whom he has tauntingly referred to on social media and even at the United Nations as "Rocket Man" or "Little Rocket Man".
Sceptics say Kim is trying to drive a wedge between the allies - the U.S. has 28,500 troops stationed in the South to defend it from the North - at a time when the global community should remain united in putting pressure and sanctions on the North over its weapons programmes.
"This decrease in arrivals is extremely concerning because it's not that life became that much better in North Korea, it is because the Chinese authorities, while signing up for increased sanctions on the North Korean economy, also stepped up their crackdowns on North Korean refugees", said Sokeel Park of Liberty in North Korea, which helps defectors reach the South. North Korea agreed to that date on Friday.
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The White House statement on Thursday said "the two leaders agreed to continue the campaign of maximum pressure against North Korea and not to repeat mistakes of the past". Imports of North Korean food, machinery and some other goods are banned. "The question of participating in the Olympics will probably have to be wrapped up before we can discuss improving inter-Korean relations".
The tally surpassed 30,000 in November 2016. If the same dates were to apply this year, that would mean the drills would overlap with the Paralympics but not the Olympic Games themselves.
South Korea's Defence Ministry has said it had yet to see any evidence of an imminent missile launch.
Moon has long advocated engagement with the North to bring it to the negotiating table, while the USA has insisted that it first take concrete steps towards disarmament.
"We have at times changed the timelines on these for any number of reasons", he said. "Remember, we're doing this at the host country's invitation".