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Olympics: IOC extends North Korea deadline for Pyeongchang Games

BERLIN (Reuters) - The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has extended the deadline for registration of North Korean athletes for the Pyeongchang winter Olympics and is planning more talks with all sides, it said on Monday

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) headquarters is pictured on the day of an Executive Board meeting on sanctions for Russian athletes in Lausanne, Switzerland December 5, 2017. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse

The IOC, which is eager to have North Korean athletes at the Games, did not say until when the registration deadline had been extended until but most sports have completed their Olympic qualifying events.

Only a figure skating pair from North Korea has secured a spot in the Games in South Korea in February, although several other athletes could qualify through special places offered by the Olympic body.

“We welcome the discussion which will take place on Wednesday between the governments of the Republic of Korea (ROK) and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK),” an IOC spokesman said.

South Korea offered talks with North Korea this week, amid a tense standoff over Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile programs, after North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said in a New Year’s Day speech that he was “open to dialogue” with Seoul.

Kim and U.S. President Donald Trump have exchanged fiery barbs in the last year and Trump has warned that the United States would have no choice but to “totally destroy” North Korea if forced to defend itself or its allies.

“As far as the participation of athletes from the National Olympic Committee of DPRK in the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018 is concerned, the IOC has been having discussions with both sides for a long time,” the spokesman said.

“In doing so we have kept the door open by extending the deadline for registration, and by offering support to North Korean athletes in the qualification process, whilst always respecting United Nations sanctions.”

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said in his New Year’s Day speech that he would consider sending a delegation to the Winter Olympics and North Korea last week reopened a long-closed border hotline with South Korea for talks.

“The IOC will at very short notice continue its talks with all the parties concerned so that we can take the necessary decisions about participation and the format of any participation in due time,” the IOC spokesman said.

“The IOC’s mission is always to ensure the participation of all qualified athletes, beyond all political tensions and divisions.

“With regard to the very particular situation on the Korean peninsula we need the political commitment from all parties concerned to make such a participation possible. Once this political commitment is clear the IOC will take the final decision.”

Reporting by Karolos Grohmann, editing by Ed Osmond