PYONGYANG, North Korea (AP) — International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach met with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Pyongyang on Friday.
Bach told an Associated Press Television crew in an exclusive interview that two had a 30-minute formal meeting followed by 45 minutes of casual discussions while watching a football match Friday afternoon at Pyongyang’s huge May Day Stadium. He said Kim Jong Un supported a plan to have North Korean athletes compete in the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics and the 2022 Beijing Winter Games.
Bach arrived in Pyongyang on Thursday to discuss development of sports in North Korea and the preparation of its athletes to qualify and participate in upcoming Olympics. He is the first foreign official to meet Kim since the North Korean leader returned earlier this week from a summit in Beijing with Chinese President Xi Jinping. That was Kim’s first known trip abroad since he assumed power after the death of his father in late 2011.
Kim is to meet with South Korean President Moon Jae-in on April 27.
Bach’s trip to Pyongyang comes after the IOC played a big part in allowing North Korea to send a delegation to the Winter Olympics last month in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
He said he received a commitment from the North’s National Olympic Committee to participate in the Tokyo Summer Olympics in 2020 and the Beijing Winter Games in 2022, along with the respective youth Olympic Games.
“This commitment has been fully supported by the supreme leader Kim Jong Un in a meeting we had this afternoon,” Bach said.
Both the North and South have hailed the Pyeongchang games as a significant step toward easing tensions on the Korean Peninsula that reached dangerously high levels last year as the North stepped up its missile tests and detonated its largest nuclear device to date. Since the Olympics, the North has pushed forward with a flurry of diplomatic moves. Kim is to meet U.S. President Donald Trump by May, though the exact date and location of that summit have not been announced.
The exact reasons behind Kim’s seeming change of tactics remain something of a mystery.
Hopes have been raised that the North Korean leader may be willing to discuss his nuclear weapons program and other measures to reduce the threat of war, possibly in exchange for security guarantees and an easing of the international sanctions that have severely pinched the already struggling North Korean economy.
Raising the level of North Korean athletes has been high on Kim’s agenda since he became leader. Of the 22 North Korean athletes who competed in Pyeongchang, only two won places on merit and the other 20 were granted special spots by the IOC.
Bach, who is German, competed in the Olympics for West Germany when the Germanys were still divided and says that gives him a special feeling for the Koreas.
While in Pyeongchang, he said he was happy with the role the IOC played but added that sports alone cannot heal all wounds.
AP Pyongyang bureau chief Eric Talmadge contributed to this report from Tokyo.