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North Korea team to join Olympics
January 10, 2018
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SEOUL: North Korea said during rare talks with the South on Tuesday 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.

At the first formal talks with South Korea in more than two years, North Korean officials said their delegation to the Games would consist of athletes, high-ranking officials and a cheering squad.

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.

South Korea has unilaterally banned several North Korean officials from entry in response to Pyongyang’s ramped-up missile and nuclear tests, held despite international pressure.

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 UN Security Council and other relevant countries, to help the North Koreans visit for the Olympics.

At Tuesday’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 Wednesday. But Chun did not immediately say what information would be transferred along the hotline.

The North severed communications in February 2016, following the South’s decision to shut down a jointly run industrial park in the North.

South Korea also proposed that athletes from both sides march together at the Games’ opening ceremony and other joint activities during the Winter Olympics, Chun told reporters outside the talks.

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.

It would also be the first time since 2005 that the North will send its female cheerleaders, dubbed the “cheering squad of beauty” by the South Korean media.

The meetings continued on Tuesday afternoon after the two sides broke up for separate lunches. Officials began speaking in the three-storey Peace House just across the demilitarised zone on the South Korean side of Panmunjom truce village.

“North Korea said that they are determined to make today’s talks fruitful, and make it a groundbreaking opportunity,” South Korea’s Chun said.

Chun also said the South Koreans proposed resuming negotiations over the North’s nuclear programme, but there was no specific response from the North.

However, North Korean officials said during the meeting they were open to promoting reconciliation through dialogue and negotiation, according to Chun.

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...”

Reuters

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