(ATR) PyeongChang 2018 President Hee Beom Lee says inter-Korean Olympic cooperation could lay "foundation for peaceful relations" going forward.
In the final days before the 2018 Winter Olympics Lee gave his first press conference in PyeongChang. He took a range of questions about the cold weather that has plagued the Olympic venues, volunteer conditions, and merchant protests around the snowboard venue.
However, most of the questions he faced were on North Korea’s participation in the Olympics.
"Marching together and having the largest delegation from [North Korea] in the Winter Olympics…was something we could not [have imagined] months ago," Lee said. "With the participation we will deliver a Peace Olympics, and this will lay the foundation for peaceful relations in the future."
North Korea is pulling out all of the stops after signaling it would participate in the 2018 Winter Olympics in Jong Un Kim’s New Year’s speech. The Olympic delegation consists only of 22 athletes and 25 officials, but the country will send a 140-person art troupe, taekwondo demonstration team, and cheering squad. South Korean media have speculated over 500 North Koreans could cross the Demilitarized Zone during the Olympics.
In a gesture of what they say is good faith, North Korea will send Yong Nam Kim, President of the Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly, to the Games. Kim is known as the titular head of state in North Korea and would be the highest government official to ever visit South Korea.
During the opening of the IOC Session ahead of the PyeongChang Games, South Korean President Jae In Moon said "our imagination has become reality" with regards to North Korean participation.
Since taking office last May, Moon has become an ever present face in organization. He quickly pledged funds from his government to help finish preparations, and has make the Olympics a key part of his foreign policy. Moon has called for greater dialogue and cooperation with North Korea, while maintaining tight U.S. and United Nations sanctions, as part of the goal to denuclearize and reunite the Korean Peninsula.
Moon has succeeded in bringing Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and U.S. Vice President Mike Pence to the 2018 Olympics, albeit for different reasons. The three countries are part of the pressure campaign against North Korea’s burgeoning nuclear program.
Abe’s travel to PyeongChang is related to Moon’s reopening of the ongoing rift between Japan and South Korea over the "comfort women" issue. In 2015 the two countries signed an agreement where Japan provided compensation to the surviving Korean women who were forced to be sex workers during World War II. Moon has called the deal flawed and wishes to reconsider, much to Abe’s consternation.
Pence’s mission for his trip to PyeongChang is to counter any propaganda the North Korean regime will attribute to its attendance at the 2018 Winter Olympics, White House officials have told American media. Pence will attend the opening ceremony of the 2018 Olympics and will bring as an invited guest Fred Warmbier, the father of an American foreign exchange student who died after being arrested in Pyongyang, North Korea and sentenced to hard labor.
A PyeongChang 2018 spokesperson said they were not immediately available to comment on the news of Warmbier’s attendance.
When asked if the PyeongChang 2018 Olympics are becoming a political sideshow because of the diplomatic complexities surrounding it Lee said "sport cannot lead the political area, but in principal we are aiming for a Peace Olympics".
The day before the 2018 Olympics Opening Ceremony North Korea is planning to hold a military parade. The parade will come months after North Korea’s last nuclear test of an intercontinental ballistic missile.
Lee said he cannot answer if the parade would have any disruptions on inter-Korean relations or the participation in the Olympic Games. All he could add was that North Korea was one of the signatories of the 2018 Olympic Truce resolution in the UN.
"The 22 athletes and 25 officials [from North Korea] are the biggest in Winter Games history," Lee said. "We will stage the safest Games during the Games period."
Written by Aaron Bauer
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