North Korea is to take part in Winter Olympics in South Korea

North Korea agreed to send athletes and cheerleaders to next month’s Winter Olympics in South Korea: the two countries ended their first official talks for more than two years.

The agreement represents a sort of diplomatic breakthrough after months of rising tensions over Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons programme.

South Korea affirmed Seoul would temporarily lift sanctions in order to allow the North to attend the Pyeongchang Games, which open in early February, and proposed that the two Koreas march together during the opening and closing ceremonies. The North said its delegation would include athletes, high-ranking officials, a cheering squad, art performers, reporters and spectators.

South Korea’s unification minister, Cho Myoung-gyon, said Seoul believed “guests from the North are going to join many others from all around the world … The people have a strong desire to see the North and South move towards peace and reconciliation,” he said.

The North, however, stated it would not discuss its nuclear weapons in coming talks with Seoul because they were aimed only at the US, not its “brethren” in South Korea.

After 11 hours of talks, the North made a strong complaint after Seoul proposed talks to denuclearise the Korean peninsula. “All our weapons including atomic bombs, hydrogen bombs and ballistic missiles are only aimed at the United States, not our brethren, nor China and Russia,” the North said in a joint statement.

“This is not a matter between North and South Korea, and to bring up this issue would cause negative consequences and risks turning all of today’s good achievement into nothing.”

Finally, the South’s unification ministry said in a separate statement: “We will closely coordinate with the United States, China, Japan and other neighbours in this process.”

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