March 31, 2018 / 1:35 AM / 9 months ago

REFILE-IOC chief Bach met with N.Korean leader Kim Jong Un: KCNA

(Refiles to add full name of Chinese president)

SEOUL, March 31 (Reuters) - International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach told North Korean leader Kim Jong Un at a meeting on Friday that the IOC would cooperate with the North to prepare for its participation in the 2020 Tokyo and 2022 Beijing Olympic Games, the North’s official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) has reported.

Bach travelled to Pyongyang on Thursday in a visit that comes after North Korea’s participation in the Pyeongchang Winter Games helped ease inter-Korean relations.

He told Kim in a meeting that the trip was to “express the most heartfelt thanks” to North Korea’s leader for helping make February’s Pyeongchang Winter Olympics a Games that were “symbolic of peace,” KCNA said on Saturday.

Athletes from North and South Korea marched under a unified peninsula flag at the opening ceremony in Pyeongchang and the two Koreas have experienced a significant thaw in tensions since the Feb. 9-25 Winter Olympics.

KCNA said Kim expressed thanks for the IOC’s support and for cooperating with North Korea “regardless of any political climate and conditions”.

He said he hoped that the IOC’s relationship with the North’s Olympic Committee would continue to develop favourably and expected cooperation in developing and improving sport in North Korea, the report added.

An official from South Korea’s Unification Ministry said it was aware of the KCNA’s report but declined to comment further.

Bach had accepted North Korea’s invitation in February, and told Reuters at the time that he saw sports as a way to reduce political tensions.

After Kim made a surprise trip this week to Beijing to meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping, his engagement with the international community has sparked speculation he may try to meet other leaders ahead of summits with South Korean President Moon Jae-in and United States President Donald Trump.

The two Koreas have experienced a significant easing in tensions since the Winter Olympics in South Korea in February, leading them to set a date to hold their first summit in more than a decade on April 27. (Reporting by Heekyong Yang; Additional reporting by Joori Roh; Editing by Peter Rutherford )

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