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Jan 17, 12:09 AM EST

2 Koreas talk about Olympic cooperation ahead of IOC meeting


AP Photo
AP Photo/Lee Jin-man

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SEOUL, South Korea (AP) -- The two Koreas are meeting Wednesday for the third time in less than 10 days to continue their discussions on Olympics cooperation, days ahead of talks with the IOC on North Korean participation in the upcoming Winter Games in the South.

A flurry of Olympics-related meetings has provided a tentative thaw in long-strained ties between the Koreas. But the North's reluctance to discuss its nuclear weapons program is raising skepticism over how long this mood of reconciliation will last.

The Koreas have been discussing fielding a joint women's hockey team and having their athletes march under a "unification flag" depicting the Korean Peninsula, instead of their respective national flags, during the opening ceremony for the Feb. 9-25 Games in Pyeongchang.

Such steps require IOC approval. The International Olympic Committee is to meet with sports and government officials from the two Koreas and officials from the Pyeongchang organizing committee at its headquarters in Switzerland on Saturday.

Wednesday's talks, in the uninhabited village of Panmunjom inside the Demilitarized Zone that divides their countries, were expected to go over these issues ahead of the IOC meeting. Other likely topics include what route the North Korean delegation would take to South Korea and how much financial support South Korea would provide them.

In the talks' morning session, North Korea said it has a plan to send a delegation to the Pyeongchang Paralympics set for March 9-18, Seoul's Unification Ministry said in a statement. Details of the North Korean Paralympics delegation will be determined in further talks between the Koreas, it said.

A pair of North Korean figure skaters qualified for the Olympics, but North Korea missed a deadline to confirm their participation. The IOC said recently it has "kept the door open" for North Korea to take part in the games.

South Korea also wants the IOC to allow the hockey team's 23-player Olympic roster to be expanded so that several North Korean players can be added without removing any of the South Korean players. If a joint hockey squad is realized, it would be the Koreas' first unified team in an Olympics.

There are still worries in South Korea that adding new players at a time when the Olympics are less than a month away would eventually weaken the team power and deprive South Korean players of due playing time.

"Adding somebody so close to the Olympics is a little bit dangerous just for team chemistry because the girls have been together for so long," Sarah Murray, the South Korea women hockey team's head coach, told reporters Tuesday, according to Yonhap news agency. "I think there is damage to our players."

South Korea's Unification Ministry spokesman Baik Tae-hyun told a regular briefing Wednesday the government will try to make sure the joint team's formation won't cause any negative effects on South Korean players. He didn't elaborate.

North Korea's sudden announcement on Jan. 1 that it would consider joining the Games is raising hopes for better ties between the Koreas after a year of heightened animosities and fears of a military confrontation as the United States is beefing up its pressures on North Korea over its nuclear and missile tests.

North Korea has made it clear that it doesn't want to discuss its nuclear program during the ongoing meetings with South Korea. Critics of the talks say North Korea may be using its Olympic participation as a way to divide Seoul and Washington while buying time to perfect its nuclear weapons.

On Monday, the two Koreas agreed that a 140-member North Korean art troupe comprising orchestra members, singers and dancers would perform in the South during the Games. The North has said its delegation would also include high-level officials, journalists, a cheering squad and a taekwondo demonstration team along with athletes.

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Associated Press video journalist Yong Jun Chang contributed to this story.

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