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North Korea will take part in the Winter Olympics in South Korea following talks

Officials from the North and South have held their first official talks in more than two years.

South Korean Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon, left, poses with head of North Korean delegation Ri Son Gwon.
South Korean Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon, left, poses with head of North Korean delegation Ri Son Gwon.
Image: AP/Press Association Images

Updated at 8.35pm

NORTH KOREA WILL send its athletes to the Winter Olympics in the South, the rivals said today after their first formal talks in more than two years following high tensions over Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons programme.

The two sides also decided to hold military talks and to restore a military hotline closed since February 2016.

Seoul and Olympic organisers have been keen for Pyongyang – which boycotted the 1988 Summer Games in the South Korean capital – to take part in what they repeatedly proclaimed a “peace Olympics” in Pyeongchang next month.

But the North had given no indication it would do so until leader Kim Jong-Un’s New Year address last week, instead pursuing its banned weapons programmes in defiance of United Nations sanctions, launching missiles capable of reaching the United States and detonating its sixth and most powerful nuclear test.

“The North Korean side will dispatch a National Olympic Committee delegation, athletes, cheerleaders, art performers’ squad, spectators, a taekwondo demonstration team and a press corps and the South will provide necessary amenities and facilities,” they said in a joint statement.

Tuesday’s talks were held in Panmunjom, the truce village in the Demilitarised Zone that splits the peninsula.

The North’s delegation walked over the Military Demarcation Line marking the border to the Peace House venue on the southern side, just yards from where a defector ran across in a hail of bullets two months ago.

Looking businesslike, the South’s Unification minister Cho Myoung-Gyon and the North’s chief delegate Ri Son-Gwon shook hands at the entrance to the building, and again across the negotiating table.

Ri wore a badge on his left lapel bearing an image of the country’s founding father Kim Il-Sung and his son and successor Kim Jong-Il, while Cho sported one depicting the South Korean flag.

In accordance with standard practice in the North, Ri wore a badge on his left lapel bearing an image of the country’s founding father Kim Il-Sung and his son and successor Kim Jong-Il. Cho also wore a lapel badge, depicting the South Korean flag.

As well as its athletes, the North proposed sending a high-level delegation, supporters, art performers and a taekwondo demonstration team to the Games, the South’s vice unification minster Chun Hae-Sung told journalists.

Seoul suggested the two sides march together at the opening ceremony, he added, and called for the resumption of family reunions, as well as Red Cross talks and military discussions to prevent “accidental clashes”.

“Let’s present the people with a precious new year’s gift,” said the North’s Ri.

There is a saying that a journey taken by two lasts longer than the one travelled alone.

The atmosphere was friendlier than at past meetings, and Cho told him that Seoul believed “guests from the North are going to join many others from all around the world” at the Olympics.

“The people have a strong desire to see the North and South move toward peace and reconciliation,” he added.

‘Peace Olympics’ 

It was a radically different tone from the rhetoric of recent months, which have seen the North’s leader Kim Jong-Un and US President Donald Trump trade personal insults and threats of war, while Pyongyang has launched missiles capable of reaching the US mainland and carried out its sixth and most powerful nuclear test to date.

Seoul has been keen to proclaim the Games in Pyeongchang, just 80 kilometres south of the DMZ, a “peace Olympics” but it needs Pyongyang to attend to make the description meaningful.

‘Beyond the Olympics’ 

Both sides expressed desires to address issues beyond the Olympics. But Pyongyang has snubbed previous attempts by Seoul to set up further family reunions, saying it will not do so unless several of its citizens are returned by the South.

It was not clear whether the North had sought to discuss a permanent end to large-scale annual military drills between Seoul and Washington.

The North’s Rodong Sinmun newspaper made no mention of the talks today but said that US policies aimed at sanctions and pressure against the North had failed and Pyongyang had become “an international nuclear power”.

The United States and South Korea agreed last week to delay the Foal Eagle and Key Resolve exercises until after the Games, apparently to help ease nerves.

Trump said at the weekend he hoped the rare talks between the two Koreas would go “beyond the Olympics” and that Washington could join the process at a later stage.

But US ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said there was “no turnaround” in the US stance: that the North must stop nuclear tests for talks with Washington.

Commenting after the talks, US spokesperson Heather Nauert said:

The United States remains in close consultations with ROK officials, who will ensure North Korean participation in the Winter Olympics does not violate the sanctions imposed by the UN Security Council over North Korea’s unlawful nuclear and ballistic missile programs.

© – AFP, 2018

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