North Korea's ceremonial leader will make an unprecedented visit to South Korea this week, officials said yesterday, as hopes grow for high-level inter-Korean talks during the Winter Olympics that begin in four days.
North Korea's official KCNA news agency confirmed that Kim Yong Nam, president of the Presidium of the Supreme People's Assembly, would attend the Olympics' opening ceremony on Friday in South Korea's alpine resort town of Pyeongchang.
Seoul's Unification Ministry said on Sunday Kim would lead a 22-strong delegation that was expected to arrive in South Korea on Friday for a three-day trip.
Kim's visit comes as Seoul pins its hopes on high-level talks during the February 9-25 Games between not only the two Koreas but also the North and the United States.
The South's presidential Blue House in Seoul said the visit by Kim, the most senior North Korean official to cross the border into the South since the Korean War ended with a truce in 1953, would create "various opportunities" for high-level talks.
"(Kim's visit) shows North Korea's resolve for improved inter-Korean relations and the success of the Olympics, as well as its sincere, earnest attitude," Blue House spokesman Kim Eui-kyeom told a news briefing yesterday.
The Games opening ceremony will also be attended by US Vice President Mike Pence, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and other world leaders.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in told his US counterpart Donald Trump in a phone call on Friday that the momentum of improved North-South relations would continue and that Pence's visit would be an "important prelude for that", according to the Blue House.
Trump said during a meeting with North Korean defectors on Friday that, despite a "very tricky situation", North Korea's participation in the Olympics could result in "something good".
However, a White House official has said Pence planned to use his attendance to counter what he sees as Pyongyang's efforts to "hijack" the Olympics with a propaganda campaign.
A North Korean art troupe would also likely travel by ship to perform during the Olympics under an exemption from bilateral sanctions, the South's Unification Ministry said yesterday.
With performances set for later this week, the North proposed on Sunday that the art troupe use a ferry for transportation and lodging, according to the Unification Ministry.
South Korea banned all North Korean ships from entering its ports in May 2010 and cut off most inter-Korean exchanges, including tourism, trade and aid, in response to a torpedo attack by the North on a navy ship that killed 46 sailors.