UPDATE:North Korea won't impact US participation at Olympics

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SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — 6:10 a.m.

The White House says North Korea's participation in the Winter Olympics won't affect U.S. participation in the Games.

Spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders adds that the decision presents North Korea with an opportunity to see the value of ending its isolation from the rest of the world. The U.S. and other world powers want North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons program.

Sanders says members of a U.S. delegation that will attend the Winter Olympics will be announced soon.

The Games are scheduled for Feb. 9-25 in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

Senior State Department official Steve Goldstein says the U.S. is encouraged North Korea is sending athletes and supporters to the Games. He says, "anything that lowers tensions is a positive development."


4:20 a.m.

The United States is consulting with South Korean officials to ensure North Korea's participation in the Winter Olympics does not violate U.N. sanctions imposed over its nuclear weapons.

That's according to a State Department statement after rare talks Tuesday between the two Koreas. The North agreed to take part in next month's games in the South, and the two countries also agreed to hold more discussions on easing tension along their border, and to reopen a military hotline.

Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert welcomed the inter-Korean meeting which she said was "aimed at ensuring a safe, secure, and successful" Olympics in Pyeongchang.

Since the talks were announced last week, the Trump administration has given a mixed response, amid concerns North Korea is seeking to drive a wedge between the U.S. and its close South Korean ally.

Nauert said President Donald Trump and South Korean President Moon Jae-in agreed last week to continue the campaign of "maximum pressure" on North Korea to get it to give up its nukes.


3:55 a.m.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is welcoming progress during talks between the two Koreas, especially their agreement to work to ease military tensions, hold military-to-military talks and to reopen a military hotline.

U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric says "the re-establishment and strengthening of such channels is critical to lowering the risk of miscalculation or misunderstanding and to reduce tensions in the region."

He says in a statement Tuesday that Guterres also welcomes North Korea's decision to send a delegation to the Olympic Winter Games.

Dujarric says the secretary-general believes the U.N. General Assembly resolution which says the Olympics "can foster an atmosphere of peace, tolerance and understanding among nations ... is particularly relevant on the Korean Peninsula and beyond."

He says Guterres also hopes that "other efforts" to reduce tensions — which he did not identify — "will contribute to the resumption of sincere dialogue leading to sustainable peace and denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula."

The rival Koreas took steps toward reducing their bitter animosity during rare talks Tuesday, as North Korea agreed to send a delegation to next month's Winter Olympics in South Korea, hold talks on lowering tension along their border and reopen a military hotline.

The meeting, the first of its kind in about two years, was arranged after North Korean leader Kim Jong Un made an abrupt push for improved ties with South Korea following a year of elevated tensions with the outside world over his expanding nuclear and missile programs. Critics say Kim may be trying to divide Seoul and Washington in a bid to weaken international pressure and sanctions on the North.

"I think we took an important first step toward the development of South-North relations," chief South Korean delegate Cho Myoung-gyon said after the talks, according to media footage from the border village of Panmunjom, the venue.

Cho's North Korean counterpart, Ri Son Gwon, read a joint statement in which the two Koreas agreed to "actively cooperate" in the Pyeongchang Olympics to "enhance the prestige of the Korean people."

He said North Korea will send a delegation of officials, athletes, cheerleaders and journalists and South Korea will provide necessary services for the delegation.

"I believe that North Korea's participation in the Pyeongchang Games will provide us with a chance to reduce tension on the Korean Peninsula," said Cho, whose official title is unification minister.

During an earlier era of inter-Korean detente, athletes from the two Koreas paraded together at international sports events such as the Olympics and fielded a unified Korean team. The government of current South Korean President Moon Jae-in wants the two Koreas to agree to similar reconciliatory steps at the Feb. 9-25 Pyeongchang Games.

North Korea is weak in winter sports and a pair of figure skaters, Ryom Tae Ok and Kim Ju Sik, earlier became the only North Korean athletes to qualify for the Pyeongchang Games before the North missed a confirmation deadline. The International Olympic Committee said Monday it has "kept the door open" for North Korea to take part in the games.

North Korea also agreed to hold military talks with South Korea aimed at reducing animosity along their tense border and to restore a military hotline communication channel, according to Cho and Ri.

The restoration of the hotline was the second in about a week. All major inter-Korean communication channels had been shut down amid animosity over the North's nuclear program in recent years.

Cho said South Korea also called for talks at an early date on denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula to promote peace. He said the two Koreas would continue high-level talks but didn't say when the next meeting would take place.

South Korean officials earlier said they also suggested resuming temporary reunions of families separated by war. But the joint statement didn't mention such reunions.

The countries have a long history of failing to follow through with rapprochement accords. In 2015, negotiators met for nearly 40 hours before announcing a deal to pull back from a military standoff caused by land mine blasts that maimed two South Korean soldiers. But animosities flared again several months later after the North's fourth nuclear test.

The meeting's venue, Panmunjom, is the only place on the tense border where North and South Korean soldiers are just meters (feet) away from each other. A North Korean soldier in November defected to the South across Panmunjom amid a hail of bullets fired by his comrades. He was hit five times but survived.

An agreement on the North's Olympic participation had been widely expected before the talks began, but the Koreas appeared to remain sharply at odds over how to improve their overall ties.

North Korea was expected to demand rewards in return for South Korea's proposal of family reunions, such as a halt to South Korean propaganda broadcasts and a scaling back or halting of military drills with the U.S. It wasn't immediately clear whether the North made such a demand.

Suspension of the military drills would be unacceptable for Seoul because it would seriously undermine its alliance with its chief ally, the United States, which wants to put more pressure on North Korea. The North views the drills as a rehearsal for an invasion.

U.S. President Donald Trump on Saturday expressed hope for some progress from the talks and said he was open to talking with Kim himself. But U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley later said the U.S. administration isn't changing its conditions regarding talks with North Korea, saying Kim first needs to stop weapons testing for a "significant amount of time."

In his New Year's Day address, Kim said he was willing to send a delegation to the Pyeongchang Games. He urged Seoul to halt the military drills with the U.S. and said he has a "nuclear button" to launch missiles at any target in the United States. Moon welcomed Kim's outreach and proposed the talks at Panmunjom.

Trump and Kim traded bellicose rhetoric and crude insults last year, as North Korea conducted it sixth and most powerful nuclear detonation and three tests of intercontinental ballistic missiles.

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