Kim Jong Un is committed to sending North Korean teams to the Tokyo and Beijing Olympics, IOC chief Thomas Bach said Saturday after a rare meeting with the leader of the nuclear-armed regime in Pyongyang.
Bach, the president of the International Olympic Committee, also said the IOC will make a proposal for a “potential joint march” and other shared activities between the North and South Korean teams at the 2020 Games in Japan.
Last month’s Winter Olympics in South Korea saw competitors from the two countries march together at the opening ceremony and field a joint women’s ice hockey team.
The Winter Games triggered a fast-moving rapprochement that will see Kim sit down with the South’s President Moon Jae-in in late April, with a US summit with President Donald Trump planned for May.
Bach told reporters after landing in Beijing that his talks with Kim on Friday had been “very open and fruitful”.
“They announced (to) us that they will definitely participate in the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 as well at the Olympic Winter Games Beijing 2022” and all editions of the Youth Olympic Games, Bach said.
“And this commitment was fully supported by the supreme leader,” he said.
North Korea’s official KCNA news agency said Kim thanked Bach for helping to bring about a “dramatic thawing” of tensions on the Korean peninsula.
Bach arrived in the country on Thursday and his visit, which concluded Saturday, was the result of an invitation extended by Pyongyang in January.
The isolated regime rarely hosts foreign dignitaries but recent weeks have seen a flurry of diplomacy, with Kim making his first foreign trip as leader to meet Chinese President Xi Jinping and inviting him to visit Pyongyang.
Kim’s Olympic overtures follow Japanese media reports earlier this month of Tokyo exploring the possibility of a meeting between Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and the North Korean leader after the surprise announcement of a proposed summit with Trump.
Tokyo has long maintained a hardline position on negotiations with the North, while Pyongyang in turn has threatened to “sink” Japan into the sea and to turn it into “ashes”, sending two missiles flying over the country last year.
– ‘New chapter’ –
Kim told Bach that the Olympics had “opened a new chapter of concord between the north and the south”, KCNA said.
“He said that the once frozen north-south relations greeted a dramatic thawing season with the Olympics as a momentum and it was totally attributable to the efforts of the IOC which offered an opportunity and paved a path for it,” the agency reported.
Bach told reporters the IOC “will continue to support the athletes from DPRK to prepare well” for the next Olympic Games.
“The IOC will make a proposal for a potential joint march, for potential other joint activities for Tokyo and maybe also for Beijing, at the appropriate time,” he said.
“The joint march of the athletes from the two Koreas in Pyeongchang sent a very strong signal of peace from these Olympic Games to the world”, he said.
The two men also held discussions about the development of sport in the North and attended a women’s football match.
Bach said the IOC would help North Korea with its preparations for sending a team to Sweden for the world table tennis championships starting next month.
North and South Korea plan to hold a rare summit on April 27.
Trump is then due to meet Kim before the end of May for talks on Pyongyang’s denuclearisation.