February 8, 2018 – South Korean President Moon Jae-in plans to meet North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s sister and other senior North Korean officials who are coming to the South tomorrow for the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang.
Kim said Moon will hold a luncheon with the North Korean delegates on Saturday.
Kim Yo Jong, believed to be around 30, would be the first member of North Korea’s ruling family to visit the South since the 1950-53 Korean War.
Analysts say her inclusion in the Olympic delegation shows North Korea’s ambition to use the Olympics to break out from diplomatic isolation by improving relations with the South, which it could use as a bridge for approaching the United States.
South Korean media have been speculating on whether Kim Jong Un will send a personal message to Moon through his sister and, if so, whether it would include a proposal for a summit between the Koreas.
U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, who arrived in South Korea earlier today ahead of the Olympics, also is to meet separately with Moon. Pence is pushing South Korea to adopt a more hawkish stance toward the North and warning against North Korean “propaganda” efforts at the games.
Moon has looked to the Olympics as an opportunity to pursue a diplomatic opening with the North after a year of heightened tensions over its nuclear and missile programs.
A day before the opening ceremony of the games, tens of thousands of North Korean soldiers marched earlier today in Kim Il Sung Square in the country’s capital along with trucks mounted with rocket launchers to mark the 70th anniversary of the founding of its military. North Korean state TV showed Kim Jong Un attending the rally.
Kim Yo Jong has been an increasingly prominent figure in North Korea’s leadership and is considered one of the few people who has earned Kim Jong Un’s absolute trust. She was promoted by her brother last year to be an alternate member of the decision-making political bureau of the ruling party’s central committee, which analysts said showed that her activities are more substantive than previously thought.
The North Korean delegation will also include Kim Yong Nam, the country’s 90-year-old nominal head of state, Choe Hwi, chairman of the country’s National Sports Guidance Committee, and Ri Son Gwon, chairman of the North’s agency that deals with inter-Korean affairs.
Neither Kim Yo Jong nor Kim Yong Nam are among the North Korean officials blacklisted under U.N. sanctions over the North’s weapons programs. However, the U.S. Treasury Department last year included Kim Yo Jong on its list of blacklisted officials over her position as vice director of the ruling Workers’ Party’s Propaganda and Agitation Department.
The U.N. committee monitoring sanctions against North Korea has proposed granting an exemption for Choe, who has been on the U.N. sanctions blacklist since last June.
North Korea has sent hundreds of people to the Olympics in the South, including officials, athletes, artists, journalists and a 230-member cheering group. Skeptics say the North’s outreach to the South over the Olympics is an attempt at weakening U.S.-led sanctions and pressure against the country and at buying more time to advance its nuclear weapons and missiles development.