SEOUL (REUTERS) - The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has welcomed the possibility of North Korea competing at next month's Pyeongchang Games in South Korea and said the invitation remained open.
A spokesman said on Tuesday (Jan 2) the IOC "welcomes the mutual intention" of the two governments to start direct talks about North Korean athletes participating in the Feb 9 to 25 Games.
"In this context, the IOC continues its discussions with the NOC (national Olympic committee) of DPRK (North Korea)," he added.
"To allow for such a participation in respect of the Olympic Charter, the IOC is keeping its invitation for a delegation of the NOC of DPRK open and will take the final decision in due time."
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un referred to the Games in a New Year's Day speech in which he also spoke of "mass-producing nuclear warheads and ballistic missiles for operational deployment".
North Korea's participation in the Winter Games will be a good opportunity to showcase the national pride and we wish the Games will be a success," he said.
"Officials from the two Koreas may urgently meet to discuss the possibility," he added.
South Korea has welcomed Kim's offer but US-based experts saw Kim's speech as a clear attempt to divide Seoul from its main ally, the United States.
Washington has led an international campaign to pressure North Korea through sanctions to give up weapons programmes aimed at developing nuclear missiles capable of hitting the United States.
The Pyeongchang Games will take place just 80km from the world's most heavily-armed border, the demilitarised zone between North and South Korea.
Meanwhile, speculations are rising over the level of collaboration between the Olympic teams of the two Koreas, Korea Herald reported.
According to the Ministry of Unification, issues regarding details of the North Korean team's stay in South Korea will be discussed if the meeting suggested by Seoul takes place.
The issues include the North Korean team's accommodations, the route it will take to enter South Korea, and the order of entry at the opening and closing ceremonies.
The two Koreas' teams made their first joint-entrance at an international sporting event in 2000 at the opening ceremony of the Sydney Olympic Games, and continued to do so until the 2007 Asian Winter Games in Changchun, China.
However, the two sides stopped making a joint entrance after inter-Korean relations began deteriorating in 2008, when a South Korean tourist was killed by a North Korean soldier in the inter-Korean resort on Geumgangsan.