The makeup of the eight-member delegation has fueled speculation that it could have discussions with Seoul officials over how the isolated regime hopes to settle the nuclear standoff and improve ties with Washington.
Led by Kim Yong-chol, a vice chairman of the Central Committee of the North’s ruling Workers’ Party, the delegation is set to arrive in the South on Sunday for a three-day visit. It will attend the Olympic closing event on the same day.
“The North’s side has notified (the South) of the supporting staff of its delegation, including several officials from its foreign ministry,” the source said, declining to be named. “We are paying attention to what message (the delegation) will convey during their stay here.”
Pyongyang rarely sends officials in charge of nuclear or US-related affairs to any inter-Korean talks, because it has long viewed the nuclear standoff as a matter that should be settled through direct negotiations with Washington.
Observers said that the inclusion of North Korean diplomats in the delegation could be Pyongyang’s response to South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s wish to foster conditions for an inter-Korean summit, including an improvement in Washington-Pyongyang relations.
Earlier this month, Kim Yo-jong, the younger sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, visited the South as part of the North’s delegation to the opening ceremony of the Olympics. During her talks with Moon, she delivered her brother’s desire for a cross-border summit. Moon, in response, called for joint efforts to foster conditions for such a meeting to take place.
Attention is being drawn to whether the North’s delegation could have any contact with a US delegation which came here on Friday to attend the Olympic closing ceremony.
The White House has said Ivanka Trump, the US president’s daughter and leader of the US delegation, has no plans to meet North Korean officials. But speculation persists that the two sides could meet, with Seoul brokering contact.
Skeptics, however, argue that Pyongyang may shun any dialogue with the US side this week, as Washington has continued to irk it with a new package of sanctions, put more pressure on it for denuclearization and pushed to highlight its woeful human rights conditions.
US Vice President Mike Pence was set to meet with North Korean delegates to the opening ceremony of the PyeongChang Games earlier this month, but the North Koreans pulled out at the last minute, according to Washington. (Yonhap)