North Korean officials on Saturday wrapped up a three-day visit to South Korea where they examined Olympic stadiums, hotels and concert halls that will potentially be used by North Korean athletes and other delegates headed to next month’s Pyeongchang Winter Games.
South Korea is preparing to host hundreds of North Koreans during the Olympics, including officials, athletes, artists, journalists and a 230-member cheering group. Liberal South Korean President Moon Jae-in sees the Games as an opportunity to resume meaningful contact with the North following an extended period of animosity over its nuclear weapons and missiles program.
The eight-member inspection team returned to North Korea after inspecting a Seoul performance facility that could host a show by a North Korean taekwondo demonstration team during the Olympics, which start on Feb. 9.
Their visit followed last week’s trip to the South by another group of North Koreans led by Pyongyang celebrity Hyon Song Wol, the leader of the famous Moranbong girl band who also heads an art troupe that will perform during the Games.
Other conciliatory gestures the Koreas have agreed to hold during the Olympics include a joint march during the opening ceremony and fielding a unified team in women’s ice hockey. A dozen North Korean hockey players arrived in South Korea on Thursday to begin training with their South Korean teammates.
The rival Koreas are also planning to hold pre-Olympic cultural and sports events in North Korea, which may potentially involve South Korean pop singers and also athletes flown to an airport the North has often used to test launch ballistic missiles.
South Korea sent officials to North Korea to check preparations at the scenic Diamond Mountain resort and a training session between non-Olympic skiers at the Masik ski resort the countries plan to hold before the Olympics.
The South Korean inspectors returned from the three-day trip on Thursday with positive reviews about the North Korean venues and the Kalma International Airport.
The South Korean athletes will likely fly by plane from the South’s Yangyang Airport to the Kalma airport to participate in the skiing event, which could begin as early as next week, according to an official from Seoul’s Unification Ministry, who didn’t want to be named, citing office rules.
If such plans are finalized, it would mark the first direct South Korean flight to the North since former first lady Lee Hee-ho made a rare goodwill visit to Pyongyang in 2015, the official said.
Lee is the widow of former South Korean President and Nobel Peace Prize winner Kim Dae-jung, who is remembered for his rapprochement policies with the North that led to a historic summit with late North Korean leader Kim Jong Il in 2000.
The South has proposed that the program at Diamond Mountain include K-pop music, the ministry official said.