IOC extends deadline for North Koreans to register for Olympics

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) announced Monday that it had extended the deadline to register North Korean athletes to participate in the Winter Olympic Games in South Korea next month.

The IOC did not specify when the cutoff date would be extended until, saying instead in a statement that it was continuing talks with both sides. The North Korean Olympic committee had missed the October 30 deadline to register their participation with the IOC.

“The IOC’s mission is always to ensure the participation of all qualified athletes, beyond all political tensions and divisions. On this we have been working with all the stakeholders for quite some time,” it said in a statement.

“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,” the IOC continued.

The extension comes a day before the North and South are due to meet for official talks, in what will be the first high-level contact between the two countries in more than two years.

For the two Koreas — who are technically still at war, though an armistice has been in place since 1953 — sport has, throughout the years, helped ease tensions on the peninsula. And after a year of escalating hostility over the North’s ballistic missile program, next month’s Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang could lead to a potential thaw.

Contact between the countries has resumed since the North Korean leader expressed hope during his New Year’s Day address that a delegation from his country might participate in the Winter Games.

Days later, officials spoke on a hotline linking the two countries for the first time in two years. At least five calls have been placed through the cross-border channel since then, according to the South Korean Unification Ministry.

Tuesday’s meeting between North and South Korean officials is expected to focus on improving relations, with the Pyeongchang Olympic Games on the agenda.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in told CNN last year that North Korean participation in the Olympics would “provide a very good opportunity for inter-Korean peace and reconciliation.”

Two North Korean athletes, figure skaters Ryom Tae-Ok and Kim Ju-sik, have already qualified for the Games, which begin on February 9.