Winter Olympics: Kim Jong-un thanks South Korea for ‘impressive’ effort

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This handout photo by KCNA shows Kim Jong-un, who appears to be supported by Ms Kim Yo-jong on his left and Mr Kim Yong-nam on his right

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has praised South Korea for hosting the North at the Winter Olympics and called for a “further livening up” of the “warm climate of reconciliation”.

The comments came after the North’s official delegation, led by Mr Kim’s sister Kim Yo-jong, returned home from their landmark visit to Pyeongchang.

State media said Mr Kim had called the South’s hosting efforts “impressive”.

The North’s attendance has been seen as marking a major warming in relations.

But there have also been concerns that it has allowed North Korea to win a propaganda victory.

“After receiving the delegation’s report, Kim Jong-un expressed satisfaction over it,” KCNA reported.

It said Mr Kim had been impressed by “the features of the south side, which specially prioritized the visit of the members of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea… and expressed thanks for them”.

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Ms Kim’s visit has been one of the most talked-about aspects of the Games

The North Korean leader also suggested “further livening up the warm climate of reconciliation and dialogue” between both Koreas, it said, and gave “important instructions” on doing so.

The report included an unusually casual picture of Mr Kim flanked by his sister and the North’s ceremonial head of state Kim Yong-nam, both holding on to him.

Soft propaganda

Ms Kim and Mr Kim Yong-nam made up the most senior delegation from the North to visit the South since the Korean War in the 1950s.

However, Ms Kim’s appearance at the Winter Games has been widely criticised, as she still remains on a US sanctions list over alleged links to human rights abuses in North Korea.

‘The human face of the regime’

By Laura Bicker, BBC News, Pyeongchang, South Korea

You could almost feel the ripple of excitement as Kim Yo-jong walked into the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympic Games. Necks craned and mobile phones were held aloft to catch a glimpse.

I found myself, along with others, leaning as far as I could over the balcony to try to see her in the VIP box below. The faces around the stadium all said one thing. She’s here. On South Korean soil.

She has given the secretive regime a human face.

Read more from Laura Bicker.

The two Koreas have never signed a peace treaty to formally end the Korean War, and are in a constant state of mutual distrust.

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Getty Images

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North Korea’s presence at the Games raised concerns about a propaganda victory

But in a further sign of a thaw in relations, on Saturday Ms Kim handed over a letter from her brother to South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in, inviting him to visit Pyongyang.

If the summit goes ahead, it will be the first meeting in more than a decade between Korean leaders.

The US later also announced that it was ready to engage in direct talks with North Korea, US Vice-President Mike Pence said in an interview with the Washington Post.

Mr Pence said that the US would continue imposing sanctions and putting pressure on Pyongyang, but added that it was open to talks.

“The point is, no pressure comes off until they are actually doing something that the alliance believes represents a meaningful step toward denuclearization,” Mr Pence told the Post.

“So the maximum pressure campaign is going to continue and intensify. But if you want to talk, we’ll talk.”

Mr Pence came face to face with Ms Kim at the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics, but they did not interact.

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AFP/Getty Images

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Kim Yo-jong was seated in the row behind US Vice-President Mike Pence at the opening ceremony

Pyongyang’s continuing nuclear ambitions hang over any diplomatic interactions.

North Korea is subject to a raft of sanctions from the US, the UN and the EU, which were imposed in response to its ballistic missile launches and nuclear tests.

Japan has said it remains sceptical about Pyongyang’s recent “charm offensive”.

“I am aware that some people argue that because North Korea is engaging in dialogue we should reward them,” Foreign Minister Taro Kono said ahead of the Games.

“Frankly I think this view is too naive. I believe that North Korea wants to buy some time to continue their nuclear missile programme.”

Winter Olympics: Kim Jong-un thanks South Korea for ‘impressive’ effort}

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