North and South Korea have held a symbolic groundbreaking ceremony they hope will lead to the resumption of road and rail links across their heavily armed border.
A North Korean religious group has sent a rare Christmas greeting to South Korea in a video.
About two hours later, a still photograph was broadcast on South Korean television showing the train arriving at Panmun Station at Kaesong where the ceremony will take place.
North Korea's head of the Committee for Unification, Ri Son Gwon, was joined by officials from China and Russian Federation to witness the event, which included signing a wooden railroad tie and unveiling a new signboard that read "Seoul-Pyongyang".
A unification ministry official said that her attendance reflects the fact that the Korean Peninsula issues are not confined to Asia, as they require global cooperation on matters related to denuclearization and sanctions. While South Korea said the Security Council granted an exemption to United Nations sanctions Tuesday to allow the ceremony to proceed, additional relief would be needed to start construction.
About 100 South Korean passengers boarded a train early Wednesday in Seoul station for a rare trip to the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK).
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un would likely reaffirm his commitment to moving forward denuclearization talks with Washington but would also call on it to take corresponding measures in his New Year's speech, experts say.
"Negotiation is at a standstill only because the US did not clarify what would be exchanged for North Korea's willingness to destroy the Yongbyon nuclear plant", Cheong Seong-jang, vice president of research planning at Seoul-based Sejong Institute, told ABC News.
The Seoul government plans to conduct further surveys on North Korean railways and roads before drawing up a detailed blueprint for the project.
Following a rapid rapprochement earlier this year that culminated in a historic summit between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, progress has stalled with both sides accusing each other of dragging their feet and acting in bad faith. In addition, the US State Department said it would review the possibility of easing travel restrictions on North Korea to facilitate the provision of humanitarian aid to the impoverished country.
Japanese Defense Minister Iwaya told reporters, "Eventually, I want to establish a forward-looking relationship (with South Korea) by exchanging opinions between the relevant authorities".
In a separate briefing, the Unification Ministry reiterated that the event was "symbolic", indirectly pointing to sanctions in place against the North, and added that it plans to further inspect roads and railways before moving to the stage of actual construction.
The Koreas in December 2007 began freight services between South Korea's Munsan Station in Paju and the North's Panmun Station to support operations at a now-shuttered joint factory park in Kaesong.
Pyongyang has expressed anguish at Washington's insistence that sanctions remain until the North takes concrete steps to give up its nuclear arsenal.
The groundbreaking ceremony, which would help bolster the optimistic mood, was attended by about 100 government officials and civilians from each of the two Koreas. The line was cut in November 2008 due to tensions over North Korea's nuclear ambitions.