Kim Jong-un extends olive branch to South Korea’s Olympic Games
On the same day that North Korea wished success for the upcoming 2018 Winter Games in South Korea, Olympic leaders expressed confidence that the global sporting event can reach “beyond all political division.”
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un spoke about the games during his annual New Year’s Day address, saying his country might meet South Korean officials to discuss sending a Northern delegation to Pyeongchang during the competition next month.
“The Winter Olympic Games that will be held soon in the South will be a good opportunity to display the status of the Korean nation and we sincerely wish that the event will be held with good results,” Kim said.
In a separate message, International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Thomas Bach said he was confident that the games can be held without incident.
“We know about the political tensions on the Korean Peninsula,” Bach said in a statement. But, he said: “The Olympic Games are about dialogue. They are a symbol of hope and peace.”
The Winter Olympics, which will take place not far from the demilitarised zone separating the North from the South, begin in early February.
Pyeongchang organisers are pushing for the North to compete as they hope to portray the event as a symbol of peace on the flashpoint peninsula.
The North missed the October 30 deadline to confirm its participation, although its pairs figure skaters, Ryom Tae-ok and Kim Ju-sik, had qualified.
The organisers have been struggling to shore up interest in the Games, which have been hit by concerns over the North’s military threat and the ban of the Russian team over a doping scandal.
Tension has been high on the divided peninsula as the isolated North staged a series of nuclear and missile tests that sparked global alarm, and traded threats of war with the US.
Several nations have questioned whether it is safe to send their athletes to the Games, which will be held in February at a mountain resort just 80 kilometres (50 miles) south of the heavily fortified border.
The Games also received a blow when the IOC’s executive board barred Russia, which topped the medals table at the 2014 Sochi Games, over its “systematic” doping programme.
There are fears the removal of the winter sports powerhouse will take some of the shine off the Pyeongchang Olympics, which will also be missing stars from North America’s National Hockey League (NHL), which opted to snub the Games