Two Koreas in fresh talks on Winter Olympics


-The Gulf Today

Seoul: North and South Korea began talks Monday on appearances by performers from Pyongyang’s state-run artistic troupes at next month’s Winter Olympics in the South, after the North agreed to attend the Games.

Pyongyang agreed last week to send athletes, high-level officials, and others to the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, easing months of high tensions over its weapons programmes.

The two sides agreed an art troupe would be part of the delegation, and eight officials — four from each country — started a working-level meeting to thrash out the details on the northern side of the Military Demarcation Line at the border truce village of Panmunjom soon after 10 am (0100 GMT), Seoul’s unification ministry said.

The North’s delegates include Kwon Hyok-Bong, a senior culture ministry official, as well as Hyon Song-Wol, the leader of the North’s famed all-female Moranbong music band.

The 10-strong band, established in 2012 with members supposedly chosen by leader Kim Jong-Un, is known for its Western-style, synthesiser-driven music and sophisticated fashion style rare in the isolated nation, although most of their songs laud the regime.

Their numbers include the jaunty “Mother’s Birthday”, about the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea, and the more soulful “We Call Him Father”, an ode to leader Kim Jong-Un.

Such lyrics could fall foul of the South’s National Security Act, which bans praise for the North.

The band once cancelled a planned performance in Beijing in 2015 and returned home after Chinese officials took issue with propaganda images on the stage featuring Pyongyang’s long-range missiles.

The South’s delegates include senior officials from the state-run Korean Symphony Orchestra, raising the prospect of groups from both sides of the DMZ performing together — another top North Korean act is the State Merited Chorus, a military choir.

The two Koreas are also set to hold talks with the International Olympics Committee (IOC) in Lausanne, Switzerland, on Saturday over how the North’s athletes will participate in the Games.

South Korea has proposed a joint march for the opening ceremony and a unified women’s ice hockey team, reports quoted a minister as saying last week.

The South Korean government and Olympic organisers have been keen for Pyongyang — which boycotted the 1988 Summer Games in the Seoul — to take part in what they have been promoting as a “peace Olympics”.

The North remained silent on the offer until Kim abruptly announced an intention to take part in his New Year speech, in a move seen as aimed at easing military tensions with the US.

Tension has been high on the flashpoint peninsula as the North staged a flurry of nuclear and missile tests since last year and Kim traded threats of war and personal attacks with US President Donald Trump.

Kim’s declaration triggered an apparent rapprochement and a rapid series of moves, while Seoul touted last week’s talks — the first inter-Korea meeting in two years — as a potential first step to bring the North into negotiations over nuclear arsenal.

South Korean President Moon Jae-In, who advocates dialogue with the North but remains critical of Pyongyang’s weapons drive, said last week he was willing to have a summit with Kim “under the right conditions”, but added that “certain outcomes must be guaranteed”.

In a setback for such hopes, Pyongyang on Sunday slammed Moon as “ignorant and unreasonable” for demanding pre-conditions — possibly a step towards denuclearisation — for a summit.

“The south Korean chief executive should not be dreaming,” the state-run KCNA news agency said in an editorial, accusing Moon of “brownnosing” the United States.

“The south Korean authorities have an axe to grind, hoping to eat corn without teeth,” it added.

It represented a return to the North’s more usual tone — in the run-up to the talks KCNA had uncharacteristically and respectfully referred to Moon by name and his title of “President”.

KCNA added that the North could still change its mind about taking part in the Olympics. “They should know that train and bus carrying our delegation to the Olympics are still in Pyongyang,” it said.

A spokesman for Seoul’s unification ministry played down the editorial, attributing it to “internal reasons and circumstances”.

“We believe that it is important to seek improvement in ties based on mutual respect and understanding,” Baik Tae-Hyun told reporters. –APP