January 26, 2018 11:53
Most of the top echelons of the North Korean regime are on various sanctions blacklists and cannot attend the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang for informal negotiations.
They include Choe Ryong-hae, now seen as leader Kim Jong-un's right-hand man, but not Kim's sister Yo-jong, who has been promoted to the regime's inner sanctum.
A high-ranking Cheong Wa Dae official said, "We have yet to be informed of the composition of the North Korean delegation. If it is led by an official capable of delivering a message from Kim Jong-un, the visit could provide the opportunity for denuclearization talks that go beyond dialogue to improve inter-Korean relations."
Cheong Wa Dae officials are making contingency plans for both the arrival of a senior official as well as an also-ran.
There would be many opportunities for the head of the North Korean delegation to meet with President Moon Jae-in, who is likely to attend various North Korean cultural performances during the Olympics. But if North Korea only sends sports officials, the dialogue could be limited to the ongoing games.
North Korea's top sports official is not expected to make the journey since he is under a UN Security Council travel ban. Choe is on South Korea's own blacklist that bans financial dealings with him.
South Korea also needs to be wary of the response of its most important ally, the U.S., in rolling out the red carpet.
U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, who will lead the American delegation to Pyeongchang, has said he does not intend to let the event become a propaganda platform for North Korea.
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