North Korea could send a delegation to the South for the 2018 Winter Olympics, in the first indication Pyongyang may participate in next month’s Games despite tensions over its nuclear weapons programme.
North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un said in his new year’s address today: “We are willing to take necessary measures including to dispatch our delegation” to the Pyeongchang Games which Seoul and organisers have billed as a “peace Olympics”.
The Winter Olympics will take place from February 9 to 25, with the Paralympics scheduled to begin on March 9.
Games organisers and Seoul have both been keen for the North to take part, but Pyongyang’s participation in sporting events in the South has largely depended on the political and military situation on the Korean peninsula.
The venues for the Games lie just 80 kilometres (50 miles) south of the tense border with the North and the build-up to the event has been overshadowed by tensions running high over the North’s escalating nuclear and missile tests.
Kim appeared to extend an olive branch to Seoul in his address to the nation today, saying the Olympics would “serve as a good chance to display our Korean people’s grace toward the world and we sincerely hope the Games will be a success”.
He cautioned however that “as long as an unstable state which is neither war nor peace continues, the North and the South cannot guarantee a success of the Olympics, sit down for talks or move forward for reunification”.
The two Koreas have been divided by a demilitarised zone since the end of the 1950-53 Korean war.
Two North Korean athletes - pairs figures skaters - have qualified for the Games but missed the October 30 deadline to confirm to the International Skating Union that they would participate.
They could, however, still take part via an invitation from the International Olympic Committee.
South Korean president Moon Jae-In last month proposed delaying Seoul’s annual joint military exercises with the US until after the Games to ease the situation.
The Key Resolve and Foal Eagle drills usually start in late February or early March and run until the end of April, usually contributing to a spike in tensions, with Pyongyang condemning the exercises as rehearsals for invasion