South and North Korean officials have begun talks on Pyongyang’s role in the upcoming Winter Olympics, even as the two countries continue to feud about US President Donald Trump’s role in the resumption of inter-Korean dialogue.
Representatives from the two countries’ culture ministries met on Monday at the demilitarised zone separating the Koreas.
They discussed “performance schedules, venue and stage conditions” for a North Korean art troupe, which is expected to perform at the sporting event, according to Yonhap news agency.
“We believe that a great symphony will be enthusiastically received,” Kwon Hyok-bong, North Korea’s chief delegate, was quoted as saying before the meeting.
“In that sense, we hope that the talks could go smoothly so as to help our art troupe perform well in the South,” he said.
The Winter Olympics will run from February 9 to 25 in Pyeongchang, South Korea, a city just 80km from the border between the two Koreas.
Monday’s meeting is seen as another step towards more substantive talks that could help defuse spiralling tensions in recent months that saw threats of nuclear attacks by North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.
According to Yonhap news agency, the representatives will meet on Wednesday to discuss other issues related to North Korea’s participation in 2018 Olympic Games.
Monday’s meeting at the village of Panmunjom followed high-level talks last week, in which South Korea agreed to lift sanctions temporarily to allow North Korean athletes to join the Winter Games.
South Korea had also reportedly proposed to hold military talks to reduce tension on the Korean Peninsula. It was unclear if North Korea had accepted that proposal.
Last week’s talks were considered the biggest thaw in relations between Seoul and Pyongyang in two years.
At the Olympics, members of North Korea’s Moranbong Band will travel to South Korea. The band, established in 2012, is known for its nationalistic performances, as well as Western pop music.
North Korean rhetoric
Just ahead of Monday’s meeting, North Korea issued a statement criticising South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in for praising Trump’s role in helping restart talks.
In a press conference, Moon had indicated that the US sanctions imposed by Trump had prompted Pyongyang to go back to the negotiating table – something North Korea called “rubbish”.
“At this time, ill-boding remarks chilling the atmosphere for reconciliation are heard from South Korea, upsetting the people,” the North’s state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said in a statement on Sunday.
“The present South Korean chief executive’s attitude casts doubt as to his intent to improve the North-South ties and build confidence,” it said.
“We will as ever strive to improve the North-South ties but will never remain an onlooker to sordid acts of chilling the efforts.”
The statement also warned that North Korea could still change its mind on its participation in the Winter Games.
“They should know that the train and bus carrying our delegation…are still in Pyongyang,” it read.
South Korea had also previously proposed that athletes from the two countries march together at the Games’ opening ceremony.