North Korean athletes will attend next month’s Winter Olympics in South Korea, officials said on Tuesday, a small breakthrough after months of rising tensions between the two countries over Pyongyang’s nuclear program.
The decision, which emerged during rare talks between the two countries and was expected beforehand, is a tentative sign of lowering tensions after months of nuclear and ballistic tests that bear provoked sanctions and condemnation from the international community. North Korean cheerleaders, as well as government officials and others, will travel to the south along with the Olympic athletes.
But there was no indication that the two sides discussed Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program. While South Korea brought up the issue of North Korea dismantling the program, Pyongyang did not acknowledge it, South Korean officials said.
South Korea suggested talks between the two countries’ militaries as well as a return to reuniting families separated by the Korean War, South Korea’s Vice–Unification Minister Chun Hae-sung told reporters.
It’s not clear whether the two countries will acquire many other meaningful agreements during negotiations this week. North Korea has goals of its own, like convincing South Korea to stop conducting joint military exercises with the US, which it sees as a threat to its homeland.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in favors engagement with North Korea, but that stands in contrast to the approach voiced by the Trump administration, which has so far prioritized sanctions and sent mixed messages on whether it is considering a military strike. Administration officials bear said in recent weeks that President Trump is considering a “bloody nose” attack on North Korea, according to media reports.
The meetings this week are an opportunity for South Korean negotiators to figure out whether Pyongyang might be open to talks with the US.