SEOUL, South Korea, Feb. 4 (UPI) — North Korea will send the regime’s ceremonial head of state to the Pyeongchang Winter Olympic Games on Friday.
South Korea’s Unification Ministry said Pyongyang sent a document on Sunday evening notifying the South that it will dispatch three high-ranking officials and 18 support staff to the South on a three-day visit.
Kim Yong-nam, president of the North’s Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly, was named the chief envoy, while the other two officials weren’t revealed.
90-year-old Kim has overseen the regime’s diplomatic affairs since the 1960s before he was instated as head of parliament in 1998.
Kim is expected to attend the Olympics’ opening ceremony on Friday and a preliminary round match of the two Korea’s women’s ice hockey team on Saturday. On Sunday, he is likely to attend a concert staged by the North’s arts troupe in Seoul.
Observers believe his visit to the South indicates the North is aiming to prove the legitimacy of its government to the world at the Olympic arena.
South Korea’s presidential office said Monday that it was “positive for now” about the development, seeing Kim’s visit as “a sign of the North’s utmost sincerity,” although “it is too early to make evaluations.”
The Moon Jae-in Administration hopes the Olympics will defuse tensions on the Korean peninsula as well as create an atmosphere for dialogue between Washington and Pyongyang.
However, it is yet unclear whether the United States and the North are willing to sit down for talks. In a phone conversation with U.S. President Donald Trump, Moon expressed hope that Vice President Mike Pence‘s visit to South Korea will be a milestone in the process of building peace.”
His remark is believed to have been suggestive of a meeting between Pence and North Korean officials during the Pyeongchang Games.
Trump reportedly avoided giving a direct answer while Pence himself said that he would send a message declaring the end to “the era of U.S. strategic patience” with North Korea.
North Korea has also shown no desire of holding talks, strongly criticizing Washington’s maximum pressure policy and accusing it of attempting to break down inter-Korean relations.
While acknowledging the heightened tension, Seoul said Sunday that it believes the door for dialogue still remains open.
Now the focus is on whether the North’s current de-facto number two Choe Ryong-hae, Vice Chairman of the Workers’ Party’s central committee, will be included in the high-level delegation, Money Today reported.
The other two members of the high-level delegation may include Kim Yong-chol, head of the Workers’ Party of Korea’s United Front Department, National Sports Guidance Committee Chairman Choe Hwi, and foreign affairs chief Ri Su-yong, and Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho.
Some speculate Kim Jong-un’s younger sister Kim Yo-jong, the sister may be included.
Choe Ryong-hae and Kim Yong-chol are currently on South Korea’s sanctions list which include an asset freeze, while Choe Hwi is subject to United Nations Security Council sanctions which ban him from travel.
Kim Yong-nam will be the highest level Pyongyang official to visit South Korea since the North’s then-number two Hwang Pyong-so attended the closing ceremony of the 2014 Asian Games in Incheon City.