North Korea to join Olympics in South Korea as tensions ease


SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — The rival Koreas took steps toward reducing their bitter animosity during rare talks Tuesday, as North Korea agreed to send a delegation to next month’s Winter Olympics in South Korea and reopen a military hotline.

The meeting, the first of its kind in about two years, was arranged after North Korean leader Kim Jong Un made an abrupt push for improved ties with South Korea following a year of elevated tensions with the outside world over his expanding nuclear and missile programs. Critics say Kim may be trying to divide Seoul and Washington in a bid to weaken international pressure and sanctions on the North.

During the talks, the North Korean delegation said it would send an Olympic delegation, including officials, athletes, cheerleaders, journalists and others, South Korean Vice Unification Minister Chun Hae-sung told reporters, according to media footage from the border village of Panmunjom, the venue of the talks.

North Korea is weak in winter sports and a pair of figure skaters, Ryom Tae Ok and Kim Ju Sik, earlier became the only North Korean athletes to qualify for next month’s Pyeongchang Games before the North missed a confirmation deadline. The International Olympic Committee said Monday it has “kept the door open” for North Korea to take part in the games.

Chun, one of five South Korean negotiators, said the South proposed that North Korea send a big delegation and march with South Korean athletes during the Feb. 9-25 games’ opening and closing ceremonies.

He said South Korea also suggested resuming temporary reunions of families separated by war and offered military talks designed to reduce animosities in front-line areas. South Korea also stressed the need to achieve denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, Chun said.

North Korea responded by saying the two Koreas must try to promote peace and reconciliation through dialogue, he said.

The two sides’ chief delegates were meeting Tuesday evening to discuss the wording of a joint statement, the media reports said, but it wasn’t immediately known when the talks would end. Past inter-Korean talks have often continued until late at night.

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