(Adds South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s comments, background)
By Jane Chung
PYEONGCHANG, South Korea, Feb 17 (Reuters) - A South Korean province is considering a proposal to co-host the 2021 Asian Winter Games with North Korea in a bid to strengthen inter-Korean ties, South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency said on Saturday, quoting provincial governor Choi Moon-soon.
Gangwon province, host for the current 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, is considering the idea also as a way of making further use of Olympics venues, Choi was quoted as saying.
North Korea is participating in the Pyeongchang Games at the invitation of the South, which is using them to help ease tensions between the two countries, still technically at war. The host city for the 2021 event has not been decided yet. A spokesman for South Korea’s sports ministry said it “hopes to continue sports exchanges with North Korea after the Winter Games” but it had not yet discussed any bid for the 2021 Games.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who held talks with top North Korean officials at Pyeongchang at the start of the Games, said on Saturday there was also a growing understanding of the need for talks between the United States and North Korea.
Washington has been pursuing a policy of isolating North Korea and exerting maximum pressure on the reclusive state to persuade it to drop its nuclear and missile weapons programme.
“Talks between South and North Korea are making significant progress ... Meanwhile, a shared understanding of holding talks between the United States and North Korea is growing,” Moon told reporters in Pyeongchang.
“(I) hope the inter-Korean talks could lead to talks between the U.S. and North Korea and also denuclearisation talks.”
Last week, Moon met North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s sister, Kim Yo Jong, who delivered an invitation for Moon to attend a summit in North Korea “at an early date”.
Moon said it was premature to talk about when a summit could take place. “There is a high expectation of an inter-Korean summit, but people seem to be getting a bit ahead of themselves,” he added.
About the possibility of co-hosting the 2021 Asian Winter Games, the Gangwon governor said he would start mapping out details once the Olympic Games end and that the proposal would also utilise North Korea’s Masikryong ski resort.
Prior to the Winter Olympics, the two Koreas held a joint training program at the Masikryong resort.
The proposal, if put forward, would need approval from South Korea’s unification ministry.
A unification ministry spokeswoman said it had no immediate comment. Choi could not be immediately reached for comment, but his office said the issue had not been discussed and was the governor’s personal opinion. (Reporting by Jane Chung and Soyoung Kim in PYEONGCHANG, Additional reporting by Heekyong Yang in SEOUL,; Editing by Mark Bendeich)