The following day, Seoul offered to Pyongyang holding a senior-level, inter-governmental dialogue on January 9 at the Peace House in the truce village of Panmunjom, which straddles the heavily guarded inter-Korean land border.

On Thursday, the USA and South Korea announced that they would delay annual joint military exercises ahead of the Winter Olympics. This time, South Korea asked whether they had any news.

Despite sudden progress toward such talks in recent days, President Trump appeared this week to mock North Korea's leader by tweeting that he has a "bigger and more powerful" nuclear button than dictator Kim Jong-un.

Mr Trump took credit for brokering the talks on Twitter, however.

China, meanwhile, announced that it was tightening restrictions on trade with North Korea under United Nations nuclear sanctions, imposing a cap on oil supplies to the North and banning imports of its steel and other goods.

Trump tweeted early on Thursday, "Does anybody really believe that talks and dialogue would be going on between North and South Korea right now if I wasn't firm, strong and willing to commit our total "might" against the North?"

Ribbons bearing messages wishing for unification between the two Koreas hang on a barbed-wire fence near the militarized zone separating the two Koreas, in Paju, South Korea, December 21, 2017.

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The Winter Olympics begin on 9 February amid rising concerns over a nuclear North Korea.

North and South Korea have agreed to their first high-level talks in two years, with the emergence in diplomacy helped by the USA backing away from military drills.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in has been in favour of better ties with North Korea for years, campaigning on a pledge to take a softer line than his conservative predecessors. "We have no intention of weakening our warning and surveillance".

Despite Moon, who took office in May, being pushed into a hard-line stance by the North's repeated missile and nuclear tests, he would clearly like dialogue.

South Korea's defense ministry has said it had yet to see any evidence of an imminent missile launch.

Reuters reported that it was active Wednesday, with officials from the North placing a call to the South.

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.