Olympics keeping door open for North Korea

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North Korea's recent abrupt push to improve ties with South Korea wasn't totally unexpected, as the country has a history of launching provocations and then pursuing dialogue with rivals Seoul and Washington in an attempt to win concessions.

President Donald Trump's United Nations ambassador said Sunday the administration isn't changing its conditions regarding talks with North Korea amid growing tensions over the North's nuclear and missile programs.

Seoul responded with an offer of talks and last week the hotline between the neighbors was restored after being suspended for nearly two years.

In addition, plans for forming a joint cheering squad are also said to be under consideration, in an attempt to amplify "the symbolism (of PyeongChang games) as Olympics of peace".

The size and membership of the North Korean delegation and their accommodation - widely expected to be paid for by Seoul - will also be discussed.

This is an apparent reference to increased criticism by the conservative South Korean opposition, which argues that financing the North's athletes in PyeongChang could violate global sanctions imposed on the Kim Jong-un regime for its weapons programme.

Choreographed cheer in Pyongyang in August 2005
Choreographed cheer in Pyongyang in August 2005

Japanese media reported over the weekend that North Korea's International Olympic Committee representative, Chang Ung, was headed to Switzerland. The North's chief negotiator is Ri Son-gwon, the chairman of North Korea's state agency in charge of affairs with the South. But North Korea could demand some rewards in exchange for those steps, such as the revival of stalled cooperation projects that are lucrative for the North or the suspensions of annual U.S.

Mr Ri has mostly taken part in military talks with the South and is known for angrily storming out of one meeting within minutes, denying Pyongyang's role in the 2010 sinking of a South Korean warship.

South Korea wants to discuss the resumption of family reunions but Pyongyang snubbed previous offers, saying it will not consider further reunions unless several of its citizens are returned by the South.

"The two leaders agreed to de-conflict the Olympics and our military exercises so that United States and Republic of Korea forces can focus on ensuring the security of the Games", a White House statement said. Beijing and Moscow have both called for them to be suspended.

The South Korean government on Tuesday will announce its official view on the previous administration's 2015 deal with Japan meant to resolve the issue of wartime "comfort women", with several diplomatic sources saying Seoul will call on Tokyo to voluntarily take additional action.

In addition to preparing for the talks, the taskforce is said to be working on a number of ways to increase collaboration between the two Koreas' teams in the games.

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