South Korea’s Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon announced Wednesday that Seoul had agreed to allow a “massive delegation totaling between 400-500 people” from North Korea to attend this year’s Winter Olympics in PyeongChang.
The agreement is a result of direct talks between the two nations occurring this week, following an invitation for Pyongyang to send representatives to discuss a potential North Korean presence at the global athletic event. Leftist South Korean President Moon Jae-in has urged the two countries to reconnect diplomatically, using sports if necessary.
“It will be difficult to say that the festival of mankind taking place in PyeongChang, just 100 kilometers from the Demilitarized Zone, will make no contribution to the human history,” Lee told reporters on Wednesday, according to the South Korean news service Yonhap. “It is bound to make contributions of a sort and leave traces.”
He confirmed the presence of the North Korean delegation while noting that the details of their visit remain to be debated. Yonhap notes that the delegation would include not only athletes, but “athletes, cheering and performing arts squads, taekwondo demonstration teams and journalists” – and, of course, communist North Korean officials. Officials have not elaborated on which officials will attend, or which “journalists.” North Korea’s government rigidly controls all media outlets available in the country, most of which are used to publish vitriol against the United States.
Talks with South Korea have not changed that attitude. In an article published Wednesday, state newspaper Rodong Sinmun warned the United States to “seek out a way for coexistence with the DPRK, a nuclear weapons state both in name and reality” and stop “precipitating its ruin.”
In particular, Rodong Sinmun expressed offense at U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley’s work to impose greater multilateral sanctions on the rogue state, calling her arguments in favor of opposing the regime “piffle.”
The Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) covered the talks with South Korea, in contrast, with rare measured language. “At the talks the north and south authorities discussed in earnest the principled issues arising in successfully holding the 23rd Winter Olympics in south Korea and improving the inter-Korean relations,” KCNA noted, listing the individuals participating in the talks on behalf of dictator Kim Jong-un. The text did not capitalize the name “South Korea,” however–a way of rejecting the sovereignty of that nation.
North Korean officials also used the talks with Seoul officials as an avenue to threaten the United States yet again. “North Korea’s weapons are only aimed at the United States, not our brethren, China or Russia,” diplomat Ri Son-gwon told his counterparts on Tuesday as a means of reassuring South Korean officials.
The two Koreas will reportedly follow up the diplomatic talks with a military meeting between the two sides. According to Seoul, the meeting will “focus on measures necessary for the North’s participation in the PyeongChang Winter Olympics.” These will be the first talks on a military level in three years; they have yet to be scheduled, though both sides are aiming for a date next month.
The Trump administration has reacted to the recent talks with cautious optimism.
“The fact that (the inter-Korean talks) happened, I think, is notable, and that such a step has not been chosen before by North Korea,” Gen. Vincent K. Brooks, the head of the U.S. armed forces in South Korea, said on Wednesday.
“We’ve seen occasions where North Korea instead of coming to a meeting with a productive sense, they come in with a disruptive sense where it’s more theatrical than it is productive,” he added. “In this case, there appears to have been an earnest meeting.”
In a press gaggle Tuesday, the State Department called the talks a “positive development” and expressed hope that North Korea would continue to open up communications to the world.