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North and South Korea to march under unified flag at Winter Olympics

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After intense negotiations, the two Koreas announced on Wednesday that they will make a joint entrance at next month's Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, reported Deutsche Welle (Germany).

Following a meeting in the truce village of Panmunjom, the latest in a string of recent talks between the two nations, Yonhap news agency reported that the countries will also send a united women's ice hockey team to the Games. The plan is still subject to approval by the International Olympic Committee (IOC).

It has also emerged that a North Korean delegation will visit the South next week to take a look at facilities for the Games, which begin on February 9. Furthermore, South Korea will send some of its athletes to Masikryong, a ski resort in the North.

Last week, Pyongyang agreed to send athletes, officials and various performers to the Winter Olympics south of the border. The Pyeongchang Games are to take place just 80 kilometers (50 miles) south of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) that divides the nations.

The news will likely come as a boost to South Korea, with Seoul having sought to label the event a "peace Olympics" despite escalating tension over North Korea's nuclear weapons program, which has led to several UN Security Council sanctions.

Both North and South Korea will now discuss their decision with the IOC in Lausanne, Switzerland on Saturday. The IOC must approve extra slots at the Games for athletes from the North after they failed to qualify or missed registration deadlines.

Should approval be granted, South Korean media suggest that about 10 North Korean athletes will travel to the Games. They will be part of a wider delegation of more than 400, including 230 cheerleaders, 140 artists and 30 Taekwondo players, a joint press statement released by Seoul's Unification Ministry said.

Since talk of the united ice hockey team was floated it has drawn criticism, particularly from athletes and coaches in the South. They raised the problematic issue of the players who will have to sacrifice their Olympic chance for their contemporaries from the North.

South Korea's president, Moon Jae-in, has expressed his support for the united ice hockey team and the countries marching together while, before the talks, the North's chief delegate, Jon Jong-Su, said he "hopes that ties can open" between the countries.

However, not everyone has greeted the news so positively. Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono said the world should not be naive about North Korea's "charm offensive" over the Olympics.

"It is not the time to ease pressure, or to reward North Korea," Kono said. "The fact that North Korea is engaging in dialogue could be interpreted as proof that the sanctions are working."

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The joint US-Canada summit is just a “heavy-handed attempt” to undermine the decisions of the UNSC, Russia's Foreign Ministry has said. It added that the meeting failed to provide an alternative to the Russian-Chinese initiative, reported Russia Today.

Participants at the Vancouver summit failed to provide any alternative to the existing Chinese-Russian roadmap for easing the Korean knot, the ministry said in statement. It noted that instead of coming up with any “constructive” results, the gathering demonstrated “absolute disrespect” for the authority of the UN Security Council (UNSC).

What’s more, the decision to consider imposing unilateral sanctions against North Korea that overstep the demands outlined by the UNSC resolutions are “absolutely unacceptable and counterproductive,” the statement added. The ministry said further that a situation, in which some countries adopt roles as interpreters of UNSC resolutions without any permission or mandate – thus undermining the role of the UN – is “absolutely inadmissible.”

Back in July 2017, Moscow and Beijing put forward a proposal known as the ‘double-freeze’ initiative that envisaged the US and its allies halting all major military exercises in the region in exchange for Pyongyang suspending its nuclear and ballistic missile program. The initiative was, however, turned down by Washington – which was reiterated on Tuesday during the Vancouver summit.

The same day, the Russian Foreign Ministry again drew attention to the fact that the initiative is aimed at “resolving the entire range of problems [around the Korean Peninsula] solely through the political and diplomatic means.”

The Vancouver meeting, on the contrary, did not contribute to the normalization of the situation on the peninsula and only exacerbated existing tensions, the ministry said. Notably, neither Russia nor China was invited to the gathering despite being major players in the region as well as immediate neighbors of North Korea.

Earlier, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said that he was told Russia and China would only be “briefed” on the results of the meeting, calling such an attitude “unacceptable.” He also said that it would be a “great result already” if the meeting merely avoided leading to anything “counterproductive.”

Beijing also slammed the summit by saying that it had “not the slightest legality and representativeness.” It also accused the meeting participants of evoking Cold War ghosts. Pyongyang denounced the Vancouver summit as a “provocation" which is not helping the talks between North and South Korea.

In the meantime, US Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard noted that it was the US regime change policy that prompted Pyongyang to develop its nuclear and missile arsenal in the first place. She turned to Twitter to call on Washington to put an end to such practices as well as to cast away “unrealistic preconditions” that the US government has been setting for decades to negotiate with North Korea.

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Reporter: Denes Osvalt
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Category: Politics
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