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North Korea to send athletes to Pyeongchang Winter Olympics

North Korea will send a delegation to next month's Wnter Olympics in South Korea, after the two countries held their first officials talk after more than two years 

9 January 2018, 9:20am
South Korea unification minister Cho Myung-Gyun (left) shakes hands with North Korean chief delegate Ri Son-Gwon (Photo: The Guardian)
South Korea unification minister Cho Myung-Gyun (left) shakes hands with North Korean chief delegate Ri Son-Gwon (Photo: The Guardian)
North Korea will send a delegation to next month’s Winter Olympics in South Korea, after the two countries held their first official talks for more than two years.

The breakthrough announcement came as the countries met for their first high-level talks in more than two years.

The delegation will include athletes, officials and supporters.

The North Korean party will also include performing artists and journalists, South Korea’s vice unification minister, Chun Hae-sung, said after the first session of talks ended on Tuesday.

"The North side proposed dispatching a high-level delegation, National Olympic Committee delegation, athletes, supporters, art performers, observers, a taekwondo demonstration team and journalists," Chun Hae-sung said.

Chun added that South Korea had proposed that the two Koreas march together during the opening and closing ceremonies at the Pyeongchang Games, which open on 9 February.

“We will make efforts to make the Pyeongchang games and the Paralympics a ‘peace festival’ and help it serve as the first step toward an improvement in inter-Korean ties … We will not be in a hurry and we will hold the talks in a calm manner,” he said.

The last time both countries marched together under the Korean Peninsula flag was more than 10 years ago, at the 2006 Winter Olympics.

South Korea also proposed holding family reunions during the Winter Olympics for people separated by the Korean War.

The agreement represents a cautious diplomatic breakthrough after months of rising tensions over Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons programme.

The five-member North Korean delegation travelled to the border in a motorcade and walked across the military demarcation line into the southern side of the truce village of Panmunjom.

“Today, North and South Korea will engage in talks in a serious and sincere stance,” said Ri Son Gwon, chairman of the North’s committee for the peaceful reunification of the fatherland and head of the country’s delegation ahead of the talks. “They will go well.”

Preparation for the resumption of high-elvel discussions have proceeded since New Year’s Day, when the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, said he hoped the Pyeongchang games would be a success, adding that he was willing to discuss North Korean participation.

The North agreed to meet on Tuesday after Seoul and Washington said they would delay joint military exercises until after the Winter Paralympics end on 18 March.

Experts say Kim Jong-un has become increasingly fearful that the US is planning a military strike against him, and has decided he must do something to de-escalate tensions.

South Korea's president Moon Jae-in has been thrust in the delicate position of trying to engage the North in genuine dialogue, while not upsetting his very sceptical American ally.

Katina Adams, spokeswoman for the US state department, did not respond directly to suggestions that the two Koreas could march under a single flag at the Pyeongchang opening ceremony and possibly compete as a single nation in some events.

The US, Adams added, remained “clear-eyed about [North Korea’s] track record when it comes to negotiations”, and added: “Time will tell if this is a genuine gesture.”