At Inter-Korea Talks, Pyongyang Agrees To Send Athletes, Cheerleaders To Olympics

In rare talks between the rival Koreas held at the shared border village of Panmunjom, the North has agreed to send athletes and a cheering squad to the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang next month.

The talks, being held Tuesday inside the Demilitarized Zone, or DMZ, are intended to reduce tensions between the bitter rivals amid harsh words between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and President Trump, who recently took to Twitter to compare the relative size of the two countries' nuclear arsenals.

As NPR's Elise Hu reports, the inter-Korea meeting is the first in two years.

"Only the first part of the dialogue was open to press, but from what cameras caught, both sides were in upbeat moods and seemed earnest about making a deal at the outset," she tells Morning Edition.

"The North Korean delegation walked from its side of the border over the military demarcation line in order to meet with South Koreans who were waiting for them," Elise told NPR's Newscast Unit, adding, "South Korea further proposed more talks next month, to discuss family reunions for those separated by the Korean War."

Those hoped-for reunions could take place as soon as the Feb. 16 Lunar New Year holiday, which falls in the middle of the Pyeongchang Games, to be held Feb. 9 to Feb. 25.

Elise says among the athletes the South is expected to send to the Olympics next month include "a figure skating pair that recently qualified for the games and is getting a lot of attention."

Seoul's Vice Unification Minister Chun Hae-sung, briefing reporters during a break in the talks, said the South had "also raised the need to end acts that can escalate tensions on the Korean Peninsula and to resume dialogue to bring peace to the Korean Peninsula, such as [North Korea's] denuclearization."

In return, he said, the North would send high-ranking officials and others, including athletes, cheering and performing art squads, taekwondo demonstration teams and journalists to the Olympics, according to Yonhap news agency.

"North Korea said that they are determined to make today's talks fruitful, and make it a groundbreaking opportunity," Chun said.

In opening remarks, the head of the North Korean delegation, Ri Son Gwon, said the meeting was being held "with the thought of giving our brethren, who have high hopes for this dialogue, invaluable results as the first present of the year."

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation notes that, " ... the meeting was closely watched by world leaders eager for any sign of a reduction in tensions on the Korean Peninsula, amid growing concern over North Korea's nuclear weapons development and defiance of United Nations Security Council resolutions."

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