South Korea on Wednesday expressed hopes of holding working-level talks with the North to discuss its participation in the PyeongChang Winter Olympics as early as this week.
During a high-level meeting between the two sides Tuesday, North Korea offered to send high-ranking officials, athletes, cheerleaders, performing artists and taekwondo demonstration teams to PyeongChang next month. They agreed to hold working-level talks to discuss details including their travel route and accommodation.
"We are always open to talks. We plan to consult with North Korea as soon as possible if both sides could set the date for the talks," Baik Tae-hyun, the unification ministry's spokesman, told a press briefing.
Seoul plans to form a government task force next week to prepare for the North's participation in the Winter Olympics.
Meanwhile, Baik said that it is too early to judge that Seoul's support for the North's delegation could violate international sanctions since details have not been finalized.
Critics said that Seoul's possible financial support for the delegation's accommodation could be in violation of the U.N. Security Council's sanctions aimed at curbing inflows of hard currency to the North.
"The government plans to closely cooperate with the U.N. sanctions committee and the U.S. to prevent the North's visit to the South from sparking a row when it reviews necessary measures to support (the North's participation)," Baik said.
Seoul's foreign ministry said Tuesday that the government may consider temporarily easing sanctions against the North, if needed, to enable North Korean officials to visit the South.
In 2014, South Korea provided 413 million won (US$385,837) in support for North Korea's participation in the Asian Games in Incheon, west of Seoul.
In 2003, the government spent 900 million won on supporting the North's athletes and cheering teams for the Summer Universiade held in the southern city of Daegu. Seoul offered 1.36 billion won to North Korea's delegation at the 2002 Busan Asian Games.
Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon said Wednesday that North Korea may dispatch a large-scale delegation that could consist of 400-500 people to the Olympics.
If the land route across the heavily guarded border is chosen, there will have to be consultation between the military authorities of the two Koreas. North Korea re-opened a military hotline with the South, a move seen as aimed at facilitating discussions on this.
Sea travel could be in violation of South Korea's unilateral sanctions that ban the entry of any vessel into South Korea that has sailed to North Korea within the past 12 months.
The two sides came short of agreeing to march together under a unified Korean flag at the opening and closing ceremonies, but Seoul said that the two Koreas "got closer" on the issue of joint parades and cultural events. (Yonhap News)