Delegation including cheerleaders will travel to Games despite rising tensions over Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program
This article titled “North Korea agrees to send athletes to Winter Olympics after talks with South” was written by Justin McCurry in Tokyo and agencies, for theguardian.com on Tuesday 9th January 2018 05.34 UTC
North Korea will send athletes and cheerleaders to next month’s Winter Olympics in South Korea, after the two countries held their first official talks for more than two years.
The North Korean party will also include performing artists and journalists, South Korea’s vice unification minister, Chun Hae-sung, said after the first session of talks ended on Tuesday.
Chun added that South Korea had proposed that the two Koreas march together during the opening and closing ceremonies at the Pyeongchang Games, which open on 9 February.
The North may have found a way to make a nuclear warhead small enough to put on a missile, but firing one at the South is likely to provoke retaliation in kind, which would end the regime.
Pyongyang has enough conventional artillery to do significant damage to Seoul, but the quality of its gunners and munitions is dubious, and the same problem – retaliation from the South and its allies – remains.
In the event of a non-nuclear attack, Seoul’s residents would act on years of experience of civil defence drills, and rush to the bomb shelters dotted around the city, increasing their chances of survival.
The agreement represents a cautious diplomatic breakthrough after months of rising tensions over Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons programme.
The five-member North Korean delegation travelled to the border in a motorcade and then walked across the military demarcation line into the southern side of the truce village of Panmunjom at around 9.30 am local time. The village straddles the demilitarised zone (DMZ), the heavily armed border that has separated the two Koreas for more than six decades.
As the two sides sat down for their first face-to-face talks since December 2015, North Korean media hit back at Donald Trump’s claim that his tough stance against Pyongyang had facilitated the Olympic negotiations.
The Rodong Sinmun, the newspaper of the ruling Workers’ party, said Trump’s claim that sanctions and pressure on the regime had brought him “diplomatic success” during his first year in the White House was “ridiculous sophism”.
Media reports said Tuesday’s meeting was adjourned at 12.20 pm local time, after more than two hours of discussions, and would resume later in the afternoon.
Reuters reported that South Korean negotiators had also proposed military talks designed to ease tensions on the peninsula and reduce the chances of a conflict breaking out due to an accident or miscalculation.
Discussions have focused on North Korean participation in the Pyeongchang Winter Games, but are also thought to have included other inter-Korean issues such as the resumption of reunions between family members who were separated at the end of the 1950-53 Korean war. South Korea has suggested holding reunions during the Lunar New Year holidays next month, according to media reports.
“Today, North and South Korea will engage in talks in a serious and sincere stance,” said Ri Son Gwon, chairman of the North’s committee for the peaceful reunification of the fatherland and head of the country’s delegation ahead of the talks. “They will go well.”
The South Korean unification minister, Cho Myoung-gyon, said: “We will make efforts to make the Pyeongchang games and the Paralympics a ‘peace festival’ and help it serve as the first step toward an improvement in inter-Korean ties … We will not be in a hurry and we will hold the talks in a calm manner.”
The two Koreas previously made joint entrances to Olympics opening and closing ceremonies in Sydney in 2000, Athens in 2004 and at the 2006 Winter Games in Turin.
Preparation for the resumption of high-level dialogue – albeit focusing on sport rather than security – have proceeded at breakneck speed since New Year’s Day, when the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, said he hoped the Pyeongchang games would be a success, adding that he was willing to discuss North Korean participation.
That was quickly followed by the reopening of a cross-border hotline that had not been used for almost two years.
The North agreed to meet on Tuesday after Seoul and Washington said they would delay joint military exercises until after the Winter Paralympics end on 18 March.
North Korea regards the drills, which the allies say are designed to demonstrate their overwhelming conventional firepower, as a rehearsal for an invasion and has often cited them as an obstacle to dialogue.
Katina Adams, a spokeswoman for the US state department, did not respond directly to suggestions that the two Koreas could march under a single flag at the Pyeongchang opening ceremony and possibly compete as a single nation in some events.
The US, Adams added, remained “clear-eyed about [North Korea’s] track record when it comes to negotiations”, and added: “Time will tell if this is a genuine gesture.”
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