Koreas to field joint women’s hockey team for Olympics, march together at opening ceremony

January 17, 2018

SEOUL, Jan. 17 (Yonhap) — South and North Korea agreed Wednesday to field a joint women’s ice hockey team for the PyeongChang Winter Olympics and march together under a “unified Korea” flag at the opening ceremony.

The North will also send a 230-member cheering squad and a 30-member taekwondo demonstration team to the South, according to a joint statement issued after a working-level meeting at the border village of Panmunjom.

The North’s delegation will use a western land route, marking the opening of the cross-border road for the first time since February 2016, when a joint industrial complex in the North Korean border city of Kaesong was shut down.

The two sides also agreed to hold a joint cultural event at Mount Kumgang on the North Korean east coast before the opening of the Feb. 9-25 Olympics and to conduct joint training of skiers at Masikryong Ski Resort in the North.

As for the Paralympics scheduled for March 9-18, the North promised to send a 150-member delegation including athletes and cheerleaders.

The outcome is expected to be discussed at the International Olympic Committee’s meeting with officials from the Koreas slated for Saturday in Lausanne, Switzerland.

The sweeping agreement marked a major breakthrough after years of frosty ties between the two countries and last year’s heightened tensions over the North’s nuclear and missile provocations.

The third inter-Korean talks in a week came after North Korean leader Kim Jong-un extended a rare offer of rapprochement to Seoul in his New Year’s Day speech, hinting at the North’s willingness to participate in the first Winter Olympics hosted by the South.

Last Tuesday, the two sides held their first formal talks in two years, in which the North agreed to dispatch a delegation of athletes, high-ranking officials, art performers and others. The North said in a working-level meeting on Monday that it will send a 140-member art troupe to perform in the South.

Earlier on Wednesday, President Moon Jae-in hailed North Korea’s participation as a chance to improve long-stalled ties.

“I believe it will be a great opportunity to thaw the South-North Korea relationship that is frozen solid,” Moon said during a meeting with Olympic athletes.

Moon hopes that better inter-Korean relations will pave the way for the resolution of the North Korean nuclear issue and for broader dialogue between the United States and the North.

The president, who took office in May last year, vowed to seek both dialogue and sanctions in handling North Korea. He has said that putting sanctions and pressure on the North is aimed at prodding Pyongyang into dialogue.

The talks coincided with a meeting of foreign ministers of 20 countries in Canada where they voiced support for inter-Korean dialogue, expressing hope that it will pave the way for easing tensions.

They also stressed the importance of diplomatic efforts to resolve the issue of the North’s nuclear weapons development and agreed to take tougher sanctions on Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile programs.

The South’s government is carefully reviewing ways to greet the North’s Olympic delegation in a way that does not violate multilayered sanctions on the communist regime.

Under U.N. sanctions, the South can’t offer cash directly to the North when it supports delegates’ accommodation expenses.

Sea travel could be in violation of South Korea’s unilateral sanctions that ban the entry to South Korea of any vessel that has sailed to North Korea within the past 12 months.

It is highly likely that North Koreans would travel to the South by land. The North asked the South on Monday to allow its art troupe to cross the border via Panmunjom for concerts during the Olympics.

Another sticking point is the North’s possible inclusion in its delegation of high-ranking officials blacklisted by U.N. sanctions or by Seoul’s unilateral punitive actions.

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