(ATR) The leader of North Korea calls for urgent talks regarding his country’s participation at the 2018 Olympic Winter Games in PyeongChang next month.
In his annual New Year’s address, Jong Un Kim spoke publicly for the first time about the Games, the first Winter Olympics for the Korean Peninsula.
"North Korea’s participation in the Winter Games will be a good opportunity to show unity of the people, and we wish the games will be a success," Kim said.
"We’re willing to take necessary steps including sending our delegation, and for this, the authorities from the North and South could urgently meet," he said in his speech.
Just two athletes from North Korea are qualified to compete in PyeongChang, a pairs figure skating team. While the deadline to register has passed, a spokesman for IOC President Thomas Bach indicates that formality might not be an issue if North Korea is serious about attending.
"We continue our close cooperation with the Organizing Committee for the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018, with the South Korean government and the National Olympic Committee of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea," says the IOC official.
"In this context, we will consider the comments of the North Korean leadership with regard to participation in the Olympic Winter Games in an open way," says the spokesman.
South Korean President President Jae In Moon has been pushing for North Korean participation in the Winter Olympics since taking office last May. He has set no conditions for talks with the North.
"The Blue House will cooperate closely with the international community to address the North Korean nuclear issue in a peaceful manner, while sitting down with the North to find the resolution to ease tensions on the Korean Peninsula and bring peace," a spokesman for Moon said.
The South Korean President has urged the U.S. to postpone joint military exercises with South Korea until after the Winter Olympics and Paralympics.
"It’s about time that the North and the South sit down and seriously discuss how to improve inter-Korean relations by ourselves and dramatically open up," said the North Korean leader in his televised address.
But while talking peace about South Korea, Kim kept up the bellicose rhetoric against the U.S.
"The entire United States is within range of our nuclear weapons, a nuclear button is always on my desk. This is reality, not a threat," Kim said. He claimed North Korea would build up its nuclear arsenal in the next year, but only to protect itself.
An expert on North Korea quoted by media in South Korea says based on the comments of Kim, he believes there’s an 80 percent chance that North Korea will come to the Games.
North Korea chose not to participate in the only other Olympics on the Korean Peninsula, Seoul in 1988.
Hee Beom Lee, president of the PyeongChang 2018 organizing committee says he’s been counting on North Korea attending the Games.
"We actively welcome the North's suggestion that it is willing to engage in talks for the participation in the Olympics. We've been preparing for the Olympics on the assumption that the North will eventually take part in the Games," Lee is quoted by AFP.
Reported by Ed Hula.