* South Korea to host Winter Olympics next month
* Talks to focus on athletes and protocol
* IOC chief Back hails great step forward (Adds Bach comments, details)
By Stephanie Nebehay
LAUSANNE, Jan 10 (Reuters) - The International Olympic Committee (IOC) will host talks on Jan. 20 to discuss details about North Korea’s participation at next month’s Winter Olympics in neighbouring South Korea, such as flags and the number of athletes.
The two countries agreed on Tuesday, following their first talks in over two years, that North Korea would send a large delegation to next month’s Games in Pyeongchang.
This week’s talks took place amid a standoff over Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile programmes but after North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said in a New Year’s Day speech that he was “open to dialogue” with Seoul.
The IOC said the meeting at its headquarters in Lausanne would take a series of “essential decisions” on the North’s participation at the Games.
These would include the number and names of athletes from the North Korean Olympic Committee as well as questions related to official protocol, including flags, ceremonies and uniform.
The IOC said that its president Thomas Bach would host the talks, which would also include the delegations from the national Olympic committees of both countries.
North Korean IOC member Chang Ung spent four hours at the IOC building on Wednesday, Reuters witnesses said. He left in a black car without talking to reporters.
“I warmly welcome the joint proposals by the governments of the ROK (Republic of Korea) and DPRK (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea), which have been applauded by so many other governments worldwide,” said Bach in the statement.
“This is a great step forward in the Olympic spirit ... now the IOC must take the decisions to make this political commitment a reality.”
Kim and U.S. President Donald Trump have exchanged fiery barbs in the past 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.
But the White House said on Wednesday that Trump told Moon Jae-in, the leader of South Korea, that the United States was open to talks with North Korea “at the appropriate time, under the right circumstances”.
On Monday, the IOC extended the deadline for the registration of North Korean athletes for the games.
Only a figure skating pair from North Korea has secured a spot although several other athletes could qualify through special places offered by the Olympic body. (Additional reporting by Brenna Hughes Neghaiwi; Writing by Brian Homewood; Editing by Alison Williams)