North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un said in a new year speech that his country wished success for the Olympics and would consider sending a delegation

Beijing (AFP) - North Korea’s Olympic representative said Saturday the reclusive nation was “likely to participate” in next month’s Winter Games in South Korea, Kyodo news agency reported, in the latest sign of a thaw in Korean tensions.

The comments by Chang Ung, Pyongyang’s representative to the International Olympic Committee (IOC), come a day after the North and South agreed to hold rare talks next week and hours after Seoul and Washington announced they would postpone joint military exercises that rile North Korea.

The Japanese news agency said Chang made the brief comment to reporters during a stopover at Beijing’s international airport.

Kyodo said Chang was believed to be travelling to Switzerland, where the IOC is based.

It quoted unnamed sources saying the trip may be aimed at meeting with the IOC to discuss the North’s potential participation in the Games at Pyeongchang.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un said in a new year speech that his country wished success for the Olympics, to be held from February 9-25, and would consider sending a delegation.

The two Koreas have been separated by the world’s most heavily militarised border since the Korean War ended in a stalemate in 1953.

Seoul and organisers are keen for the North to take part in the Games to help ease worsening tensions on the Korean peninsula stemming from Kim’s confrontation with the world over his country’s nuclear and missile programmes.

A selection of stamps commemorating North Korea's participation in past winter Olympic Games is displayed at a stamp shop in Pyongyang

In recent months, North Korea has held multiple missile launches and its sixth and most powerful nuclear test – purportedly of a hydrogen bomb – in violation of UN resolutions banning such activity by the reclusive nation.

The region has been further rattled by tit-for-tat threats and insults between Kim and US President Donald Trump.

But the new year has witnessed a marked softening of tone on both sides.

Seoul has reacted warmly to Kim’s Olympic overture and the two Koreas this past week restored a cross-border hotline that had been shut down since 2016 and agreed to hold high-level talks next week – the first since 2015.

Those talks are expected to focus on matters including the North’s Olympic participation.

Also in recent days, the United States and South Korea agreed to delay their joint military exercises until after the Olympics, apparently to ease the situation with Pyongyang.

The regular joint drills have been criticised by some as adding to regional tensions, particularly by Beijing and Moscow who have both called for them to be suspended.