North Korea and South Korea, which have been at war since 1953, will talk in an official capacity next week for the first time in two years. The reason for the meeting? The Olympics.
The 2018 Winter Games will be held in PyeongChang, South Korea, about 50 miles north of the Korean border. Exactly one month before they begin on Feb. 9, delegations from the North and South will meet in Panmunjom, a border town, to discuss cooperation during the Olympics.
North Korea boycotted the last Olympics held in South Korea in 1988, but a pair of figure skaters from the North have qualified for the 2018 edition, and North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un said on Monday that he was willing to send a delegation to the PyeongChang Games. “We sincerely hope the games will be successful,” Kim said, before suggesting the two nations meet.
The talks are expected to touch on North Korea’s participation at the Olympics, and a potential suspension of any provocations from the North during them. The United States announced Thursday that it would postpone joint military exercises with South Korea until after the Games.
Hours later, South Korea’s Unification Ministry announced that the North had accepted the South’s invitation to meet Tuesday in the demilitarized zone on the border.
South Korean president Moon Jae-in has said that he hopes to use the Olympics as a peacemaker, to the extent that’s possible. North Korean athletes have competed in the 2002 and 2014 Asian Games in the South, but never in a sporting competition as big as the Olympics.
The North Korean figure skating pair, Ryom Tae-Ok and Kim Ju-Sik, are technically not qualified for the 2018 Games, because North Korea failed to confirm their spot by the Nov. 30 deadline. The spot was subsequently handed to Japan. But the International Olympic Committee could still choose to allow the North Korean skaters to compete.
A South Korean spokesman said the North would likely also discuss its potential participation with the IOC next week.
The possibility of a U.S. boycott of the Games, if North Korea is allowed to compete, was once again raised Monday when Lindsey Graham, a Republican senator from South Carolina, tweeted that he “fully believe[s] that if North Korea goes to the Winter Olympics, we do not.”
Allowing Kim Jong Un’s North Korea to participate in #WinterOlympics would give legitimacy to the most illegitimate regime on the planet.
I’m confident South Korea will reject this absurd overture and fully believe that if North Korea goes to the Winter Olympics, we do not.
— Lindsey Graham (@LindseyGrahamSC) January 1, 2018
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was asked about a potential boycott on Tuesday, and said, “We haven’t made a final determination on that front.” President Trump has not commented specifically on the prospect North Korea’s participation, but told Moon on Thursday that the U.S would send “a high-level delegation.”
And every U.S. Olympic Committee representative who has spoken on the matter, from USOC CEO Scott Blackmun to spokesman Mark Jones, and every U.S. Figure Skating representative who has, from president Samuel Auxier to executive director David Raith, has said they would welcome the participation of North Korea. “We’re hoping they’re there,” Raith said Wednesday.