North Korea Plays a New Tune As it Gears Up for Winter Olympics

The head of South Korea's delegation, Lee Woo-sung, crosses into North Korea for a meeting in Panmunjom. (Getty Images)
The head of South Korea’s delegation, Lee Woo-sung, crosses into North Korea for a meeting in Panmunjom. (Getty Images)

The parties negotiating North Korea’s role in the Winter Olympics secured a promising but vague deal last week, and agreed to settle the details before the Games begin next month.

One key detail — at least for the North — emerged Monday.

The totalitarian nation plans to send a 140-member orchestra to South Korea as part of its overall delegation, the total size of which remains uncertain, both parties in the latest round of inter-Korean talks agreed Monday.

The latest deal, announced by South Korea’s Unification Ministry, will allow the North’s Samjiyon Orchestra to hold performances in both Seoul and Gangneung, a city about 100 miles east of Seoul that’s hosting Olympics events such as figure skating and ice hockey.

The parties are expected to meet again on Wednesday at Panmunjom, a diplomatic outpost in the demilitarized zone, to seek agreement on other details — such as the number of athletes, fans and government officials who will also attend the Games, which begin Feb. 9.

The South had originally hoped to discuss those central issues on Monday, but the North insisted that both sides first negotiate the participation of its art troupe.

“We believe that a great symphony will be enthusiastically received,” Kwon Hyok Bong, one of the North’s negotiators, said as the meeting opened. “We hope that the talks could go smoothly so as to help our art troupe perform well in the South.”

The two sides also agreed to settle specific plans for the orchestra — venues, stage conditions and equipment issues — “amicably” before the Games. The North is expected to send an advance team soon to plan the performances, the South’s Unification Ministry said in a statement.

“The South will ensure the safety and convenience of the North’s performing squad to the utmost extent,” according to the statement.

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SOURCE: Matt Stiles
The Los Angeles Times