As North Korea and South Korea prepare for talks, locals are cautiously optimistic

Talks aimed at thawing the frigid relations between North and South Korea are set to start in a few hours.

The first formal high-level talks in over two years will be held in Panmunjom, on the demilitarized zone between the two countries.

Primarily aimed at discussing North Korea’s participation in next month’s winter Olympics in South Korea, Seoul is hoping the talks go beyond that.

“…We expect the discussion to focus on the mutual interest of improving North-South relations,” said Baik Tae-Hyun of the South Korean Unification Ministry.

Clearly, Kim Jong Un does, too.

North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un speaks during a New Year's Day speech in this photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang on January 1, 2018. KCNA / via REUTERS     ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS PICTURE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. REUTERS IS UNABLE TO INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THE AUTHENTICITY, CONTENT, LOCATION OR DATE OF THIS IMAGE. NO THIRD PARTY SALES. NOT FOR USE BY REUTERS THIRD PARTY DISTRIBUTORS. SOUTH KOREA OUT.     TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY - RC11B0782E80

Ever since his New Year’s message, North Korea leader Kim Jong Un has been talking up warmer ties with the South while keeping his nuclear arsenal trained on the U.S.

Ever since his New Year’s message, the combative leader of the Hermit Kingdom has been talking up warmer ties with the South while keeping his nuclear arsenal trained on the U.S.

Some fear the North is trying to drive a wedge between South Korea and the US. Or that a dovish Seoul could give away too much.

Still, the U.S. did delay U.S.-South Korean joint military exercises until after the Olympics, as requested by the South.

And President Trump’s recent references to the talks have been generally positive.

“The South Koreans opening this channel could have positive side effects that would make it easier for Americans to talk to North Koreans at a senior level,” leading Seoul-based Korea expert John DeLury told Fox News.

FILE - In this Tuesday, Oct. 31, 2017 photo, President Donald Trump speaks during a meeting in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington. A federal judge in San Francisco will hear arguments Wednesday, Dec. 20, 2017, to determine whether to block Trump's decision to end a program protecting some young immigrants from deportation or throw out lawsuits by California and other plaintiffs that oppose the move. The judge is also considering a request by the Trump administration to throw the lawsuits out. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File)

President Trump's recent remarks on the North-South Korea talks have been mostly positive.  (AP)

Washington’s caveat for U.S.-North Korea talks is a pause in nuclear and missile testing by the North. After a very nervous 2017, the residents in Seoul are merely wishing for more talk, and less provocative action in the region.

“I believe any kind of communication is good,” one local told Fox News. “And, as I understand it, President Trump is behind this as well.”

Many in South Korea are torn. They want peace with their feisty neighbor – but don’t want to unsettle Uncle Sam.

But they are trying to be optimistic.

“I’m very hopeful,” another resident said. “It is a chance to communicate.”

Greg Palkot currently serves as a London-based senior foreign affairs correspondent for Fox News Channel (FNC). He joined the network in 1998 as a correspondent. Follow him on Twitter@GregPalkot.