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IOC chief wants to visit North Korea for talks on Olympics

By Kim Hyo-jin

International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Thomas Bach wants to visit North Korea to encourage it to participate in the PyeongChang Winter Olympics in South Korea in February, sources said Friday.

Government officials reportedly said talks between the IOC and North Korea are under way to arrange Bach's visit to Pyongyang. If North Korea agrees, he could visit there this month.

The officials said that the plan has been discussed in consultation with the South Korean government.

"Although it is not clear yet, if it takes place, the visit can be interpreted as a positive signal that the North will participate in the Olympics," an official said.

He said the IOC chief was likely to suggest that the Olympic body would support the country's participation costs and grant wild card slots for North Korean athletes, the official said.

North Korea's figure skating pair Ryom Tae-ok and Kim Ju-sik _ the only North Korean team to have qualified for the Olympics _ missed an Oct. 30 deadline to register for their event, but the door will be still open with Bach's potential offer.

Bach has been enthusiastic about promoting the isolated country's entry. So is the Moon Jae-in government because the North's participation would help ease heightened tensions on the Korean Peninsula after Pyongyang's ongoing nuclear and missile tests.

At a meeting with Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon in October, Bach pledged to try to persuade Pyongyang until the last minute. Bach said he was trying through various channels to have North Korea join the Games.

He added that the IOC was considering providing technical support to encourage the North to participate.

Meanwhile, the unification ministry reaffirmed its pledge to ensure a peaceful environment for the sports event. But the ministry said it was unaware of the IOC chief's possible visit.

"The government will make efforts to make the PyeongChang Olympics a peaceful event, such as backing the North's entry to the games," said ministry vice spokeswoman Lee Eu-gene. "We will actively engage in communications through multiple channels."

Bach's possible visit is being watched closely because some countries are concerned about possible North Korean provocations during the Olympics.

US ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said on Fox News Wednesday that participation of U.S. athletes was an "open question."

The U.S. Olympic Committee later denied this, saying the U.S. team would compete.


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