The rival Koreas agreed Wednesday to form their first unified Olympic team and have their athletes parade together for the first time in 11 years during the opening ceremony of next month's Winter Olympics in South Korea, officials said.
The agreements still require approval from the International Olympic Committee. But they are the most prominent steps toward rapprochement achieved by the Koreas since they recently began exploring cooperation during the Olympics following a year of heightened tension over the North's nuclear weapons program.
The results of the talks will be discussed by both Koreas with the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in Lausanne, Switzerland, on Saturday.
"This will then enable the IOC to carefully evaluate the consequences and the potential impact on the Olympic Games and the Olympic competitions," an IOC spokesperson said.
|Vice Unification Minister Chun Hae-sung (center) announces the results of the talks on Wednesday. Yonhap|
"There are many considerations with regard to the impact of these proposals on the other participating (nations) and athletes," with final decisions to be made on Saturday.
The IOC must approve extra Olympic slots for the North's athletes after they failed to qualify or missed deadlines to register.
The agreements are highly symbolic and emotional. But it's still not clear how many North Korean athletes will come to PyeongChang because none are currently qualified. South Korean media have predicted only up to 10 North Korean athletes will end up being covered by an additional quota from the IOC.
A pair of North Korean figure skaters qualified for this year's Olympics, but the country missed a deadline to confirm their participation. The IOC said recently it has ``kept the door open'' for North Korea to take part in the games. IOC officials are to meet with sports and government officials from the two Koreas and officials from the PyeongChang organizing committee in Switzerland on Saturday.
The IOC said in statement Wednesday that it has ``taken note of a number of interesting proposals from different sources.''
``There are many considerations with regard to the impact of these proposals on the other participating NOCs (national Olympic committees) and athletes. After having taken all this into consideration, the IOC will take its final decisions on Saturday in Lausanne,'' it said.
During the third day of inter-Korean talks at the border in about a week, senior officials reached a package of agreements, including fielding a joint women's ice hockey team and marching together under a blue and white ``unification flag'' depicting their peninsula in the opening ceremony, Seoul's Unification Ministry said.
A joint statement distributed by the ministry said the North Korean Olympic delegation will travel to South Korea across their heavily fortified land border before the Feb. 9-25 PyeongChang Games. It said the delegation will include a 230-member cheering group, a 30-member taekwondo demonstration team, journalists, athletes and officials.
The current reconciliation mood 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 games. Critics have said Kim's overture is an attempt to use improved ties with South Korea to weaken US-led international sanctions on North Korea while buying time to perfect his nuclear weapons program.
The White House says the joint Olympic team is an opportunity for North Korea to see the value of ending its international isolation by getting rid of its nuclear weapons.
``We hope that this experience gives North Korea and its athletes a small taste of freedom, and that rubs off and it's something that spreads and impacts in these negotiations and in these conversations,'' spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said.
Some conservative critics say North Korea's cheering and artistic groups are too big and worry the North may try to steal the show at the Olympics to launch what they call a ``peace offensive'' to try to show it's a normal country despite pursuing nuclear weapons.
From news reports