SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korea agreed Tuesday to send a delegation to the PyeongChang Olympics, Seoul officials said, as the bitter rivals sat for rare talks at the border to discuss how to cooperate in the Olympics and improve their long-strained ties.
The Koreas’ first talks in two years were arranged after North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un recently made an abrupt push for improved ties with South Korea after a year of elevated tensions with the outside world over his expanding nuclear and missile programs.
During the talks, the North Korean delegation said it would send an Olympic delegation, which includes officials, athletes, cheerleaders, journalists and others, South Korea’s Vice Unification Minister Chun Hae-sung told reporters, according to media footage from the border village of Panmunjom, the venue for the talks.
The South Korean delegation, for its part, proposed North Korea send a big delegation and conduct a joint march during the Opening and Closing Ceremonines (Feb. 9 and Feb. 25), Chun, one of the five South Korean negotiators, said.
North Korea responded by saying the two Koreas must try to promote peace and reconciliation through dialogue, he said.
The International Olympic Committee said in a statement that it “warmly welcomes” the agreed-upon proposals.
“These proposals mark a great step forward in the Olympic spirit,” IOC president Thomas Bach said.
The IOC will discuss possible North Korean Olympic participation, including competing athletes, once receiving official reports and proposals from Tuesday’s meeting between the North and South.
North Korea does not currently have any qualified athletes for the Winter Games. North Korea did qualify a pairs figure skating team in September but lost the spot by not registering by an Oct. 31 deadline.
The IOC can extend a special invitation to those figure skaters to be added to the Olympic field.
The two sides were to continue their negotiations later Tuesday at Panmunjom, the only place on the tense border where North and South Korean soldiers are just feet away from each other.
The meeting began with an amicable atmosphere Tuesday morning, with chief North Korean delegate Ri Son Gwon saying he hopes the talks would give “a New Year’s first gift — precious results (of the talks) to the Korean nation.”
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