South Korea proposes date for Olympic talks with North Korea

AP
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South Korea on Tuesday offered high-level talks with rival North Korea to find ways to cooperate on the PyeongChang Olympics.

Seoul’s quick proposal following a rare rapprochement overture from the North a day earlier.

In a closely watched New Year’s address, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said Monday that he was willing to send a delegation to the Olympics.

Kim’s overture was welcome news for a South Korean government led by liberal President Moon Jae-in, who favors dialogue to ease the North’s nuclear threats and wants to use the Olympics as a chance to improve inter-Korean ties.

Moon’s unification minister, Cho Myoung-gyon, proposed in a nationally televised news conference that the two Koreas meet Jan. 9 at the shared border village of Panmunjom to discuss Olympic cooperation and how to improve overall ties.

The PyeongChang Opening Ceremony is Feb. 9.

Earlier Tuesday, Moon spoke of what he described as Kim’s positive response to his earlier dialogue overtures and ordered officials to study how to restore talks with North Korea and get the North to participate in the Olympics.

North Korea did not immediately react.

But if there are talks, they would be the first formal dialogue between the Koreas since December 2015.

“The Winter Games to be held in South Korea will be a good occasion for the country,” Kim said Monday, according to Yonhap News Agency. “We sincerely hope that the Winter Olympics will be a success.

“We are ready to take various steps, including the dispatch of the delegation. To this end, the two Koreas can immediately meet.”

They marked the first widely reported comments from Kim suggesting North Korea’s Olympic participation and discussions with South Korea on the matter.

In April, the governor of PyeongChang’s province reportedly said that a North Korean sports ministry official told him that North Korean athletes will be in PyeongChang.

In February, the North Korean member of the International Olympic Committee reportedly said he believed that a North Korean delegation would be at PyeongChang.

North Korea boycotted the only other Olympics held in South Korea, the Summer Games in Seoul in 1988.

Since, North Korean athletes have participated in major sporting events in South Korea, including the 2002 and 2014 Asian Games.

North Korea qualified its first athletes for PyeongChang in September — pairs figure skaters — but then missed a deadline to confirm use of those spots.

The IOC could extend a special invitation to the pairs skaters — or North Korean athletes in other sports — to join the Olympic field.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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