SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — South Korea on Saturday requested North Korea to explain why it abruptly canceled plans to send a delegation over the weekend to prepare for a visit by an art troupe during next month’s Pyeongchang Winter Olympics.
South Korean Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon said that the countries could hopefully reschedule a visit soon.
North Korea also hasn’t responded to the South Korean proposal to send a 12-member delegation to the North on Tuesday to inspect preparations for a joint cultural event at the North’s scenic Diamond Mountain and a training session between non-Olympic skiers at the North’s Masik ski resort ahead of the Olympics.
“Since we are fully ready for the visit of the North Korean advance team and their activities, it would be possible for the South and North to set up a new schedule and carry on (with the preparations), ” Cho told reporters at the ministry in capital Seoul.
The ministry said North Korea didn’t explain why it was “suspending” the visit by the seven-member advance team that was agreed just hours earlier on Friday through a cross-border hotline. It wasn’t immediately clear whether the two-day visit, which was to begin on Saturday, was canceled or just postponed.
It was supposed to be led by the art troupe’s leader Hyon Song Wol. She also heads the hugely popular girl band Moranbong that’s hand-picked by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
The rival Koreas earlier this week agreed that the 140-member Samjiyon art troupe, which will include singers, dancers and orchestra members, will perform twice in South Korea during the games in a sign of warming ties between the countries. It will be part of a North Korean Olympic delegation that will also include athletes, officials, state media reporters, a cheering group and a taekwondo demonstration team.
Hyon has been the focus of intense South Korean media interest since she attended inter-Korean talks at the border on Monday that reached agreement on the troupe’s visit. Hyon’s gestures during the talks as well as her makeup, looks, navy blue suit and green shoulder bag received widespread coverage.
The reconciliation mood between the Koreas began after North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said in a New Year’s speech that he was willing to send a delegation to the Olympics. While South Korea hopes to use the games to improve relations with its rival after a year of animosity over North Korea’s rapidly expanding nuclear program, some experts view Kim’s overture as an attempt to weaken U.S.-led international sanctions against the North and buy time to further advance his nuclear weapons program.