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North and South Koreans plan to march together, field joint Olympic team

Matt Stiles and Laura King, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Olympics

SEOUL, South Korea -- In a rare gesture of unity after recent threats of "enveloping fire," North and South Korea agreed Wednesday to march together under a unified flag during the opening ceremony at next month's Winter Olympics.

The announcement also includes plans to organize a joint women's ice hockey team, which if approved would be the first combined Korean team for the Olympics -- a symbolic milestone that comes only days after a false ballistic missile scare sent shock waves across Hawaii.

But analysts said it was too soon to say whether the Olympic accord amounted to a breakthrough -- or just a breather.

United Nations General Assembly President Miroslav Lajcak of Slovakia said on Twitter he was "heartened" by the Koreas' plans to march together.

But Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono warned earlier against too much optimism over the North's Olympics gestures. "It is not the time to ease pressure or to reward North Korea," he said. "The fact that North Korea is engaging in dialogue could be interpreted as proof that the sanctions are working."

The latest agreements, released in a statement late Wednesday after 12 hours of talks in the Demilitarized Zone dividing the peninsula, were among several public signs that the two sides plan to project unity before and during the Winter Games, which begin Feb. 9 in Pyeongchang, about 40 miles south of the DMZ.

 

North Korea will send a 230-member "cheering squad" to the Games, who will join supporters from South Korea to cheer athletes from both countries. The two nations also plan to hold joint training and cultural events, though decisions about which North Korean athletes will compete ultimately will be left to the International Olympic Committee, which plans to meet with both sides Saturday.

The news of a small rapprochement stood in stark contrast to recent acrimonious outbursts between Pyongyang and Washington over North Korea's rapidly progressing nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs.

As North Korea has notched unprecedented advances, President Donald Trump has derided its leader, Kim Jong Un, as "Little Rocket Man," and Kim called Trump a "dotard." Trump threatened "fire and fury like the world has never seen."

Trump, in an interview Wednesday with the Reuters news agency, said it was possible that tension with North Korea could be resolved peacefully, "but it's very possible that it can't."

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