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
Camp David (AFP) - North Korea’s Olympic representative said Saturday the reclusive nation is “likely to participate” in next month’s Winter Games in South Korea, as US President Donald Trump voiced hope that rare talks between the two Koreas go “beyond the Olympics.”
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 follow Seoul and Washington’s announcement that they would postpone joint military exercises.
Trump said later Saturday that he hopes the rare talks – the first official dialogue between the countries in more than two years – will go “beyond the Olympics,” adding that Washington would join the process at a later stage.
“I would love to see them take it beyond the Olympics,” he said at a news conference at the Camp David presidential retreat. “And at the appropriate time, we’ll get involved.”
He added that if something could come out of the talks “that would be a great thing for all of humanity.”
South Korea has proposed sending a five-member delegation led by a government minister to the talks in the truce village of Panmunjom on Tuesday, according to the Unification Ministry in Seoul.
The two Koreas have been separated by the world’s most heavily-militarized border since the Korean War ended in a stalemate in 1953, but tensions have worsened recently over Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile programs.
In recent months, the North 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 isolated nation.
The region has also been rattled by tit-for-tat threats and insults between Kim and Trump.
- Trump’s ‘tough stance’ -
Seoul and organizers are keen for the North to take part in the Games to help ease tensions.
Japanese news agency Kyodo said Chang had made the brief comment about North Korea’s likely participation to reporters during a stopover at Beijing’s international airport.
It said Chang was believed to be travelling to Switzerland, where the IOC is based, quoting unnamed sources as saying the trip may be aimed at meeting the committee to discuss the issue.
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.
A selection of stamps commemorating North Korea's participation in past winter Olympic Games is displayed at a stamp shop in Pyongyang
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 December 2015.
Trump, who has jumped between taking a provocative approach towards North Korea and calling for a peaceful resolution, said Saturday that the Olympic talk was largely due to his “tough stance.”
“You have to have a certain attitude. You have to be prepared to do certain things,” he said.
“For 25 years they (South Korea) haven’t been using a tough stance. They’ve been giving everything.”
Also in recent days, the United States and South Korea agreed to delay their joint military exercises until after the Games, apparently to help ease nerves.
The regular joint drills have been criticized by some as adding to regional tensions. Beijing and Moscow have both called for them to be suspended.
- Latest sanctions -
North Korea’s young leader has shrugged off multiple sets of new UN Security Council sanctions as his regime drives forward with its weapons programs, which it says are needed to defend against US aggression.
Seoul and organizers are keen for the North to take part in the Games to help ease worsening tensions on the Korean peninsula
The latest round of sanctions passed in December bans the supply of nearly 75 percent of refined oil products to North Korea, puts a cap on crude deliveries and orders all North Korean nationals working abroad to be sent back by the end of 2019.
Sales of all industrial machinery, trucks, iron, steel and other metals to North Korea have been banned, as well as a range of Northern exports.
China, North Korea’s longtime ally and most important economic lifeline, said it had begun enforcing the new restrictions on Saturday.
South Korean opposition parties have struck a cautious tone over the latest developments, warning against making concessions to the North to secure its Olympic participation.