North Korea to send team to Winter Olympics in South
SEOUL - Reuters
North Korea said during rare talks with the South on Jan. 9 it would send a delegation to the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics in South Korea next month and Seoul said it was prepared to lift some sanctions temporarily so the visit could take place.
The talks are being closely watched by world leaders eager for any sign of a reduction in tension on the Korean peninsula, amid rising fears over North Korea’s missile launches and development of nuclear weapons in defiance of United Nations Security Council resolutions.
However, some South Korean officials have said they see the Olympics as a possible opportunity for easing tension.
Foreign ministry spokesman Roh Kyu-deok said Seoul would consider whether it needed to take “prior steps,” together with the U.N. Security Council and other relevant countries, to help the North Koreans visit for the Olympics.
At Jan. 9’s talks, the first since December 2015, Seoul proposed inter-Korean military discussions to reduce tension on the peninsula and a reunion of family members in time for February’s Lunar New Year holiday, South Korea’s vice unification minister Chun Hae-sung said.
The North has finished technical work to restore a military hotline with South Korea, he added, with normal communications set to resume on Jan. 10. But Chun did not immediately say what information would be transferred along the hotline.
Athletes from the two Koreas have paraded together at the opening and closing ceremonies of major international games before, although this has not been seen since the 2007 Asian Winter Games in China, after relations chilled under nearly a decade of conservative rule in the South.
The meetings continued on Jan. 9 afternoon after the two sides broke up for separate lunches. Officials began speaking at 10 a.m. in the three-story Peace House just across the demilitarized zone on the South Korean side of Panmunjom truce village.
The head of the North Korean delegation, Ri Son Gwon, said, “We came to this meeting today with the thought of giving our brethren, who have high hopes for this dialogue, invaluable results as the first present of the year ...”
“Our talks began after North and South Korea were severed for a long time, but I believe the first step is half the trip,” said Cho. “It would be good for us to make that ‘good present’ you mentioned earlier.”
“Everything feels slightly new as we have not had talks in a while,” he said.
One man was spotted waving a flag with a unified Korean peninsula.
Each side’s delegation consisted of five senior officials.
The United States, which has 28,500 troops stationed in South Korea as a legacy of the 1950-1953 Korean War, initially responded coolly to the idea of inter-Korean meetings, but U.S. President Donald Trump later called them “a good thing.”
Trump has said he would like to see talks go beyond the Olympics. “At the appropriate time, we’ll get involved,” he said.
On Jan. 9, China’s foreign ministry said it was happy to see talks between North and South Korea and welcomed all positive steps. Russia echoed the sentiment, with a Kremlin spokesman saying, “This is exactly the kind of dialogue that we said was necessary.”