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North Korea's talk of joining Winter Olympics is 'a gift on New Year's Day,' organizer says

Key Points
  • Lee Hee-beom, head of the organizing committee for the PyeongChang Winter Olympics, praised North Korea's desire to participate in the event
  • Pyongyang on Monday said it may be ready to send a delegation to the tournament — a gesture Lee likened to "a gift on New Year's Day"

North Korea's desire to participate in the upcoming Winter Olympics is a gesture that's like "a gift on New Year's Day," according to the sporting event's chief organizer.

A South Korean television news broadcast showing North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un's New Year's speech on January 1, 2018.

The pariah state's leader Kim Jong Un said in a televised speech on Monday that he would consider sending a delegation to the upcoming games, which will be held in the South Korean city of PyeongChang next month. In the speech, Kim said that he was ready to talk with Seoul on the matter — while also highlighting his county's nuclear advancement.

Pyongyang has never participated in an Olympic event hosted by its southern neighbor.

So, the new rhetoric is "a positive sign," said Lee Hee-beom, head of the PyeongChang 2018 organizing committee, Yonhap News reported on Monday. The organizing committee has already been making preparations for North Korea's participation, he reportedly added: "All the processes for the North Korean delegation's accommodation and transportation are in place."

The International Olympic Committee has long encouraged the reclusive regime to participate in the Winter Games even as the country faces multiple international sanctions for its repeated nuclear and missile tests. In September, the committee said it was ready to provide North Korean athletes with gear and cover equipment costs.

Russian tankers supplied fuel to North Korea, breaching UN sanctions
Russian tankers supplied fuel to North Korea, breaching UN sanctions

"The basic principle for the IOC is that North Korea can compete in any event it wishes," Lee said, according to Yonhap. "North Korea won't be able to send athletes in every sport, but I expect it to have representation in figure skating, short track and cross-country skiing."

See Yonhap's story for more on the North potentially joining the games.