A high-level North Korean delegation has arrived in South Korea for the closing ceremony of the PyeongChang Winter Games and scheduled talks with South Korean officials.
Led by Kim Yong Chol, vice chairman of the Party Central Committee, the eight-member delegation arrived at Dorasan, Paju, just south of the inter-Korean border at 10 a.m. Sunday local time (8 p.m. Saturday ET)
The inclusion of Kim, a former spy chief who’s on the list of individuals sanctioned by the US and South Korea, is considered controversial given his past ties to a fatal torpedo attack on a South Korean warship in 2010.
On Sunday, South Korea confirmed another interesting name on the list: Choi Kang Il, the deputy director of the North American affairs.
Choi’s inclusion has raised suggestions there may be a meeting, however informal, between the US and North Korea.
South Korean officials have already said they won’t be facilitating any talks between the North Koreans and the US delegation, led by presidential adviser and first daughter Ivanka Trump, who arrived in South Korea Saturday to cheer on US athletes.
It’s possible the US and North Korea delegations could come into close contact in the VIP Box in the PyeongChang Olympic Stadium during the final theatrics of a Winter Olympics that is winding down after 16 days.
US President Mike Pence made a concerted effort not to engage with the North Koreans during the opening ceremony February 9. Seated just feet away from Kim Yo Jong, the sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, Pence sat stony-faced as the North and South Korean athletes entered the stadium waving the united Koreas flag.
Pence later told Axios he ignored Kim because he didn’t believe it was “proper” for the US to pay attention to “someone who’s not merely the sister of the dictator but is the leader of the propaganda effort.”
The United States is going to maintain a “campaign of maximum pressure” on North Korea, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told journalists in South Korea on Saturday.
Sanders is traveling with the US delegation, and made the comments after the US announced further sanctions against North Korea late Friday.
The new measures include sanctions against 27 entities and 28 vessels either registered or flagged in several countries, including North Korea, China and Singapore.
Along with Kim Yong Chol and Choi Kang Il, the North Korean delegation includes:
- Kim Song Hye, head of the Secretarial Bureau of the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Fatherland
- Ri Hyon, a senior official at Korean Asia-Pacific Peace Committee
- Kim Myong Kuk, Kim Ju Song and Cho Bom Soon
The delegation plans to return to North Korea on February 27.