This week, South Korea accepted North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's offer of "urgent" talks over his country's participation in the 2018 Olympic Games in Pyeongchang. Although the sudden engagement over what might amount to two figure skaters crossing the border may not seem like a big deal, history suggests that ignoring the entreaty could be a major missed opportunity.
To understand the significance of these talks, it's worth remembering the last time the Olympic Games were held on the Korean peninsula, in 1988. The International Olympic Committee's decision to award the games to Seoul that year came as a surprise. At the time, South Korea was emerging from a coup and bloody demonstrations. Its economy was in tatters, the Soviet bloc was refusing to recognize it diplomatically, and tensions with North Korea were soaring.